Archive for the ‘Autism Spectrum Disorders’ Category

  1. Lungs can supply blood stem cells and also produce platelets: Lungs, known primarily for breathing, play a previously unrecognized role in blood production, with more than half of the platelets in a mouse’s circulation produced there. Furthermore, a previously unknown pool of blood stem cells has been identified that is capable of restoring blood production when bone marrow stem cells are depleted.


  1. A new drug for multiple sclerosis: A new multiple sclerosis (MS) drug, which grew out of the work of UCSF (University of California, San Francisco) neurologist was approved by the FDA. Ocrelizumab, the first drug to reflect current scientific understanding of MS, was approved to treat both relapsing-remitting MS and primary progressive MS.


  1. Marijuana legalized – research needed on therapeutic possibilities and negative effects: Recreational marijuana will be legal in California starting in January, and that has brought a renewed urgency to seek out more information on the drug’s health effects, both positive and negative. UCSF scientists recognize marijuana’s contradictory status: the drug has proven therapeutic uses, but it can also lead to tremendous public health problems.


  1. Source of autism discovered: In a finding that could help unlock the fundamental mysteries about how events early in brain development lead to autism, researchers traced how distinct sets of genetic defects in a single neuronal protein can lead to either epilepsy in infancy or to autism spectrum disorders in predictable ways.


  1. Protein found in diet responsible for inflammation in brain: Ketogenic diets, characterized by extreme low-carbohydrate, high-fat regimens are known to benefit people with epilepsy and other neurological illnesses by lowering inflammation in the brain. UCSF researchers discovered the previously undiscovered mechanism by which a low-carbohydrate diet reduces inflammation in the brain. Importantly, the team identified a pivotal protein that links the diet to inflammatory genes, which, if blocked, could mirror the anti-inflammatory effects of ketogenic diets.


  1. Learning and memory failure due to brain injury is now restorable by drug: In a finding that holds promise for treating people with traumatic brain injury, an experimental drug, ISRIB (integrated stress response inhibitor), completely reversed severe learning and memory impairments caused by traumatic brain injury in mice. The groundbreaking finding revealed that the drug fully restored the ability to learn and remember in the brain-injured mice even when the animals were initially treated as long as a month after injury.


  1. Regulatory T cells induce stem cells for promoting hair growth: In a finding that could impact baldness, researchers found that regulatory T cells, a type of immune cell generally associated with controlling inflammation, directly trigger stem cells in the skin to promote healthy hair growth. An experiment with mice revealed that without these immune cells as partners, stem cells cannot regenerate hair follicles, leading to baldness.


  1. More intake of good fat is also bad: Liberal consumption of good fat (monounsaturated fat) – found in olive oil and avocados – may lead to fatty liver disease, a risk factor for metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Eating the fat in combination with high starch content was found to cause the most severe fatty liver disease in mice.


  1. Chemical toxicity in almost every daily use products: Unregulated chemicals are increasingly prevalent in products people use every day, and that rise matches a concurrent rise in health conditions like cancers and childhood diseases, Thus, researcher in UCSF is working to understand the environment’s role – including exposure to chemicals – in health conditions.


  1. Cytomegalovirus found as common factor for diabetes and heart disease in young women: Cytomegalovirus is associated with risk factors for type 2 diabetes and heart disease in women younger than 50. Women of normal weight who were infected with the typically asymptomatic cytomegalovirus, or CMV, were more likely to have metabolic syndrome. Surprisingly, the reverse was found in those with extreme obesity.


























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Disease related changes in proteomics, protein folding, protein-protein interaction

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP



Frankenstein Proteins Stitched Together by Scientists



The Frankenstein monster, stitched together from disparate body parts, proved to be an abomination, but stitched together proteins may fare better. They may, for example, serve specific purposes in medicine, research, and industry. At least, that’s the ambition of scientists based at the University of North Carolina. They have developed a computational protocol called SEWING that builds new proteins from connected or disconnected pieces of existing structures. [Wikipedia]

Unlike Victor Frankenstein, who betrayed Promethean ambition when he sewed together his infamous creature, today’s biochemists are relatively modest. Rather than defy nature, they emulate it. For example, at the University of North Carolina (UNC), researchers have taken inspiration from natural evolutionary mechanisms to develop a technique called SEWING—Structure Extension With Native-substructure Graphs. SEWING is a computational protocol that describes how to stitch together new proteins from connected or disconnected pieces of existing structures.

“We can now begin to think about engineering proteins to do things that nothing else is capable of doing,” said UNC’s Brian Kuhlman, Ph.D. “The structure of a protein determines its function, so if we are going to learn how to design new functions, we have to learn how to design new structures. Our study is a critical step in that direction and provides tools for creating proteins that haven’t been seen before in nature.”

Traditionally, researchers have used computational protein design to recreate in the laboratory what already exists in the natural world. In recent years, their focus has shifted toward inventing novel proteins with new functionality. These design projects all start with a specific structural “blueprint” in mind, and as a result are limited. Dr. Kuhlman and his colleagues, however, believe that by removing the limitations of a predetermined blueprint and taking cues from evolution they can more easily create functional proteins.

Dr. Kuhlman’s UNC team developed a protein design approach that emulates natural mechanisms for shuffling tertiary structures such as pleats, coils, and furrows. Putting the approach into action, the UNC team mapped 50,000 stitched together proteins on the computer, and then it produced 21 promising structures in the laboratory. Details of this work appeared May 6 in the journal Science, in an article entitled, “Design of Structurally Distinct Proteins Using Strategies Inspired by Evolution.”

“Helical proteins designed with SEWING contain structural features absent from other de novo designed proteins and, in some cases, remain folded at more than 100°C,” wrote the authors. “High-resolution structures of the designed proteins CA01 and DA05R1 were solved by x-ray crystallography (2.2 angstrom resolution) and nuclear magnetic resonance, respectively, and there was excellent agreement with the design models.”

Essentially, the UNC scientists confirmed that the proteins they had synthesized contained the unique structural varieties that had been designed on the computer. The UNC scientists also determined that the structures they had created had new surface and pocket features. Such features, they noted, provide potential binding sites for ligands or macromolecules.

“We were excited that some had clefts or grooves on the surface, regions that naturally occurring proteins use for binding other proteins,” said the Science article’s first author, Tim M. Jacobs, Ph.D., a former graduate student in Dr. Kuhlman’s laboratory. “That’s important because if we wanted to create a protein that can act as a biosensor to detect a certain metabolite in the body, either for diagnostic or research purposes, it would need to have these grooves. Likewise, if we wanted to develop novel therapeutics, they would also need to attach to specific proteins.”

Currently, the UNC researchers are using SEWING to create proteins that can bind to several other proteins at a time. Many of the most important proteins are such multitaskers, including the blood protein hemoglobin.


Histone Mutation Deranges DNA Methylation to Cause Cancer



In some cancers, including chondroblastoma and a rare form of childhood sarcoma, a mutation in histone H3 reduces global levels of methylation (dark areas) in tumor cells but not in normal cells (arrowhead). The mutation locks the cells in a proliferative state to promote tumor development. [Laboratory of Chromatin Biology and Epigenetics at The Rockefeller University]

They have been called oncohistones, the mutated histones that are known to accompany certain pediatric cancers. Despite their suggestive moniker, oncohistones have kept their oncogenic secrets. For example, it has been unclear whether oncohistones are able to cause cancer on their own, or whether they need to act in concert with additional DNA mutations, that is, mutations other than those affecting histone structures.

While oncohistone mechanisms remain poorly understood, this particular question—the oncogenicity of lone oncohistones—has been resolved, at least in part. According to researchers based at The Rockefeller University, a change to the structure of a histone can trigger a tumor on its own.

This finding appeared May 13 in the journal Science, in an article entitled, “Histone H3K36 Mutations Promote Sarcomagenesis Through Altered Histone Methylation Landscape.” The article describes the Rockefeller team’s study of a histone protein called H3, which has been found in about 95% of samples of chondoblastoma, a benign tumor that arises in cartilage, typically during adolescence.

The Rockefeller scientists found that the H3 lysine 36–to–methionine (H3K36M) mutation impairs the differentiation of mesenchymal progenitor cells and generates undifferentiated sarcoma in vivo.

After the scientists inserted the H3 histone mutation into mouse mesenchymal progenitor cells (MPCs)—which generate cartilage, bone, and fat—they watched these cells lose the ability to differentiate in the lab. Next, the scientists injected the mutant cells into living mice, and the animals developed the tumors rich in MPCs, known as an undifferentiated sarcoma. Finally, the researchers tried to understand how the mutation causes the tumors to develop.

The scientists determined that H3K36M mutant nucleosomes inhibit the enzymatic activities of several H3K36 methyltransferases.

“Depleting H3K36 methyltransferases, or expressing an H3K36I mutant that similarly inhibits H3K36 methylation, is sufficient to phenocopy the H3K36M mutation,” the authors of the Science study wrote. “After the loss of H3K36 methylation, a genome-wide gain in H3K27 methylation leads to a redistribution of polycomb repressive complex 1 and de-repression of its target genes known to block mesenchymal differentiation.”

Essentially, when the H3K36M mutation occurs, the cell becomes locked in a proliferative state—meaning it divides constantly, leading to tumors. Specifically, the mutation inhibits enzymes that normally tag the histone with chemical groups known as methyls, allowing genes to be expressed normally.

In response to this lack of modification, another part of the histone becomes overmodified, or tagged with too many methyl groups. “This leads to an overall resetting of the landscape of chromatin, the complex of DNA and its associated factors, including histones,” explained co-author Peter Lewis, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a former postdoctoral fellow in laboratory of C. David Allis, Ph.D., a professor at Rockefeller.

The finding—that a “resetting” of the chromatin landscape can lock the cell into a proliferative state—suggests that researchers should be on the hunt for more mutations in histones that might be driving tumors. For their part, the Rockefeller researchers are trying to learn more about how this specific mutation in histone H3 causes tumors to develop.

“We want to know which pathways cause the mesenchymal progenitor cells that carry the mutation to continue to divide, and not differentiate into the bone, fat, and cartilage cells they are destined to become,” said co-author Chao Lu, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Allis lab.

Once researchers understand more about these pathways, added Dr. Lewis, they can consider ways of blocking them with drugs, particularly in tumors such as MPC-rich sarcomas—which, unlike chondroblastoma, can be deadly. In fact, drugs that block these pathways may already exist and may even be in use for other types of cancers.

“One long-term goal of our collaborative team is to better understand fundamental mechanisms that drive these processes, with the hope of providing new therapeutic approaches,” concluded Dr. Allis.


Histone H3K36 mutations promote sarcomagenesis through altered histone methylation landscape

Chao Lu, Siddhant U. Jain, Dominik Hoelper, …, C. David Allis1,, Nada Jabado,, Peter W. Lewis,
Science  13 May 2016; 352(6287):844-849 http://dx.doi.org:/10.1126/science.aac7272  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6287/844

An oncohistone deranges inhibitory chromatin

Missense mutations (that change one amino acid for another) in histone H3 can produce a so-called oncohistone and are found in a number of pediatric cancers. For example, the lysine-36–to-methionine (K36M) mutation is seen in almost all chondroblastomas. Lu et al. show that K36M mutant histones are oncogenic, and they inhibit the normal methylation of this same residue in wild-type H3 histones. The mutant histones also interfere with the normal development of bone-related cells and the deposition of inhibitory chromatin marks.

Science, this issue p. 844

Several types of pediatric cancers reportedly contain high-frequency missense mutations in histone H3, yet the underlying oncogenic mechanism remains poorly characterized. Here we report that the H3 lysine 36–to–methionine (H3K36M) mutation impairs the differentiation of mesenchymal progenitor cells and generates undifferentiated sarcoma in vivo. H3K36M mutant nucleosomes inhibit the enzymatic activities of several H3K36 methyltransferases. Depleting H3K36 methyltransferases, or expressing an H3K36I mutant that similarly inhibits H3K36 methylation, is sufficient to phenocopy the H3K36M mutation. After the loss of H3K36 methylation, a genome-wide gain in H3K27 methylation leads to a redistribution of polycomb repressive complex 1 and de-repression of its target genes known to block mesenchymal differentiation. Our findings are mirrored in human undifferentiated sarcomas in which novel K36M/I mutations in H3.1 are identified.


Mitochondria? We Don’t Need No Stinking Mitochondria!


Diagram comparing typical eukaryotic cell to the newly discovered mitochondria-free organism. [Karnkowska et al., 2016, Current Biology 26, 1–11]
  • The organelle that produces a significant portion of energy for eukaryotic cells would seemingly be indispensable, yet over the years, a number of organisms have been discovered that challenge that biological pretense. However, these so-called amitochondrial species may lack a defined organelle, but they still retain some residual functions of their mitochondria-containing brethren. Even the intestinal eukaryotic parasite Giardia intestinalis, which was for many years considered to be mitochondria-free, was proven recently to contain a considerably shriveled version of the organelle.
  • Now, an international group of scientists has released results from a new study that challenges the notion that mitochondria are essential for eukaryotes—discovering an organism that resides in the gut of chinchillas that contains absolutely no trace of mitochondria at all.
  • “In low-oxygen environments, eukaryotes often possess a reduced form of the mitochondrion, but it was believed that some of the mitochondrial functions are so essential that these organelles are indispensable for their life,” explained lead study author Anna Karnkowska, Ph.D., visiting scientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “We have characterized a eukaryotic microbe which indeed possesses no mitochondrion at all.”


Mysterious Eukaryote Missing Mitochondria

Researchers uncover the first example of a eukaryotic organism that lacks the organelles.

By Anna Azvolinsky | May 12, 2016




Scientists have long thought that mitochondria—organelles responsible for energy generation—are an essential and defining feature of a eukaryotic cell. Now, researchers from Charles University in Prague and their colleagues are challenging this notion with their discovery of a eukaryotic organism,Monocercomonoides species PA203, which lacks mitochondria. The team’s phylogenetic analysis, published today (May 12) in Current Biology,suggests that Monocercomonoides—which belong to the Oxymonadida group of protozoa and live in low-oxygen environmentsdid have mitochondria at one point, but eventually lost the organelles.

“This is quite a groundbreaking discovery,” said Thijs Ettema, who studies microbial genome evolution at Uppsala University in Sweden and was not involved in the work.

“This study shows that mitochondria are not so central for all lineages of living eukaryotes,” Toni Gabaldonof the Center for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, Spain, who also was not involved in the work, wrote in an email to The Scientist. “Yet, this mitochondrial-devoid, single-cell eukaryote is as complex as other eukaryotic cells in almost any other aspect of cellular complexity.”

Charles University’s Vladimir Hampl studies the evolution of protists. Along with Anna Karnkowska and colleagues, Hampl decided to sequence the genome of Monocercomonoides, a little-studied protist that lives in the digestive tracts of vertebrates. The 75-megabase genome—the first of an oxymonad—did not contain any conserved genes found on mitochondrial genomes of other eukaryotes, the researchers found. It also did not contain any nuclear genes associated with mitochondrial functions.

“It was surprising and for a long time, we didn’t believe that the [mitochondria-associated genes were really not there]. We thought we were missing something,” Hampl told The Scientist. “But when the data kept accumulating, we switched to the hypothesis that this organism really didn’t have mitochondria.”

Because researchers have previously not found examples of eukaryotes without some form of mitochondria, the current theory of the origin of eukaryotes poses that the appearance of mitochondria was crucial to the identity of these organisms.

“We now view these mitochondria-like organelles as a continuum from full mitochondria to very small . Some anaerobic protists, for example, have only pared down versions of mitochondria, such as hydrogenosomes and mitosomes, which lack a mitochondrial genome. But these mitochondrion-like organelles perform essential functions of the iron-sulfur cluster assembly pathway, which is known to be conserved in virtually all eukaryotic organisms studied to date.

Yet, in their analysis, the researchers found no evidence of the presence of any components of this mitochondrial pathway.

Like the scaling down of mitochondria into mitosomes in some organisms, the ancestors of modernMonocercomonoides once had mitochondria. “Because this organism is phylogenetically nested among relatives that had conventional mitochondria, this is most likely a secondary adaptation,” said Michael Gray, a biochemist who studies mitochondria at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and was not involved in the study. According to Gray, the finding of a mitochondria-deficient eukaryote does not mean that the organelles did not play a major role in the evolution of eukaryotic cells.

To be sure they were not missing mitochondrial proteins, Hampl’s team also searched for potential mitochondrial protein homologs of other anaerobic species, and for signature sequences of a range of known mitochondrial proteins. While similar searches with other species uncovered a few mitochondrial proteins, the team’s analysis of Monocercomonoides came up empty.

“The data is very complete,” said Ettema. “It is difficult to prove the absence of something but [these authors] do a convincing job.”

To form the essential iron-sulfur clusters, the team discovered that Monocercomonoides use a sulfur mobilization system found in the cytosol, and that an ancestor of the organism acquired this system by lateral gene transfer from bacteria. This cytosolic, compensating system allowed Monocercomonoides to lose the otherwise essential iron-sulfur cluster-forming pathway in the mitochondrion, the team proposed.

“This work shows the great evolutionary plasticity of the eukaryotic cell,” said Karnkowska, who participated in the study while she was a postdoc at Charles University. Karnkowska, who is now a visiting researcher at the University of British Columbia in Canada, added: “This is a striking example of how far the evolution of a eukaryotic cell can go that was beyond our expectations.”

“The results highlight how many surprises may await us in the poorly studied eukaryotic phyla that live in under-explored environments,” Gabaldon said.

Ettema agreed. “Now that we’ve found one, we need to look at the bigger picture and see if there are other examples of eukaryotes that have lost their mitochondria, to understand how adaptable eukaryotes are.”

  1. Karnkowska et al., “A eukaryote without a mitochondrial organelle,” Current Biology,doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.03.053, 2016.

organellesmitochondriagenetics & genomics and evolution


A Eukaryote without a Mitochondrial Organelle

Anna Karnkowska,  Vojtěch Vacek,  Zuzana Zubáčová,…,  Čestmír Vlček,  Vladimír HamplDOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.03.053  Article Info

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  • Monocercomonoides sp. is a eukaryotic microorganism with no mitochondria
  • •The complete absence of mitochondria is a secondary loss, not an ancestral feature
  • •The essential mitochondrial ISC pathway was replaced by a bacterial SUF system

The presence of mitochondria and related organelles in every studied eukaryote supports the view that mitochondria are essential cellular components. Here, we report the genome sequence of a microbial eukaryote, the oxymonad Monocercomonoides sp., which revealed that this organism lacks all hallmark mitochondrial proteins. Crucially, the mitochondrial iron-sulfur cluster assembly pathway, thought to be conserved in virtually all eukaryotic cells, has been replaced by a cytosolic sulfur mobilization system (SUF) acquired by lateral gene transfer from bacteria. In the context of eukaryotic phylogeny, our data suggest that Monocercomonoides is not primitively amitochondrial but has lost the mitochondrion secondarily. This is the first example of a eukaryote lacking any form of a mitochondrion, demonstrating that this organelle is not absolutely essential for the viability of a eukaryotic cell.



HIV Particles Used to Trap Intact Mammalian Protein Complexes

Belgian scientists from VIB and UGent developed Virotrap, a viral particle sorting approach for purifying protein complexes under native conditions.


This method catches a bait protein together with its associated protein partners in virus-like particles that are budded from human cells. Like this, cell lysis is not needed and protein complexes are preserved during purification.

With his feet in both a proteomics lab and an interactomics lab, VIB/UGent professor Sven Eyckerman is well aware of the shortcomings of conventional approaches to analyze protein complexes. The lysis conditions required in mass spectrometry–based strategies to break open cell membranes often affect protein-protein interactions. “The first step in a classical study on protein complexes essentially turns the highly organized cellular structure into a big messy soup”, Eyckerman explains.

Inspired by virus biology, Eyckerman came up with a creative solution. “We used the natural process of HIV particle formation to our benefit by hacking a completely safe form of the virus to abduct intact protein machines from the cell.” It is well known that the HIV virus captures a number of host proteins during its particle formation. By fusing a bait protein to the HIV-1 GAG protein, interaction partners become trapped within virus-like particles that bud from mammalian cells. Standard proteomic approaches are used next to reveal the content of these particles. Fittingly, the team named the method ‘Virotrap’.

The Virotrap approach is exceptional as protein networks can be characterized under natural conditions. By trapping protein complexes in the protective environment of a virus-like shell, the intact complexes are preserved during the purification process. The researchers showed the method was suitable for detection of known binary interactions as well as mass spectrometry-based identification of novel protein partners.

Virotrap is a textbook example of bringing research teams with complementary expertise together. Cross-pollination with the labs of Jan Tavernier (VIB/UGent) and Kris Gevaert (VIB/UGent) enabled the development of this platform.

Jan Tavernier: “Virotrap represents a new concept in co-complex analysis wherein complex stability is physically guaranteed by a protective, physical structure. It is complementary to the arsenal of existing interactomics methods, but also holds potential for other fields, like drug target characterization. We also developed a small molecule-variant of Virotrap that could successfully trap protein partners for small molecule baits.”

Kris Gevaert: “Virotrap can also impact our understanding of disease pathways. We were actually surprised to see that this virus-based system could be used to study antiviral pathways, like Toll-like receptor signaling. Understanding these protein machines in their natural environment is essential if we want to modulate their activity in pathology.“


Trapping mammalian protein complexes in viral particles

Sven Eyckerman, Kevin Titeca, …Kris GevaertJan Tavernier
Nature Communications Apr 2016; 7(11416)   http://dx.doi.org:/10.1038/ncomms11416

Cell lysis is an inevitable step in classical mass spectrometry–based strategies to analyse protein complexes. Complementary lysis conditions, in situ cross-linking strategies and proximal labelling techniques are currently used to reduce lysis effects on the protein complex. We have developed Virotrap, a viral particle sorting approach that obviates the need for cell homogenization and preserves the protein complexes during purification. By fusing a bait protein to the HIV-1 GAG protein, we show that interaction partners become trapped within virus-like particles (VLPs) that bud from mammalian cells. Using an efficient VLP enrichment protocol, Virotrap allows the detection of known binary interactions and MS-based identification of novel protein partners as well. In addition, we show the identification of stimulus-dependent interactions and demonstrate trapping of protein partners for small molecules. Virotrap constitutes an elegant complementary approach to the arsenal of methods to study protein complexes.

Proteins mostly exert their function within supramolecular complexes. Strategies for detecting protein–protein interactions (PPIs) can be roughly divided into genetic systems1 and co-purification strategies combined with mass spectrometry (MS) analysis (for example, AP–MS)2. The latter approaches typically require cell or tissue homogenization using detergents, followed by capture of the protein complex using affinity tags3 or specific antibodies4. The protein complexes extracted from this ‘soup’ of constituents are then subjected to several washing steps before actual analysis by trypsin digestion and liquid chromatography–MS/MS analysis. Such lysis and purification protocols are typically empirical and have mostly been optimized using model interactions in single labs. In fact, lysis conditions can profoundly affect the number of both specific and nonspecific proteins that are identified in a typical AP–MS set-up. Indeed, recent studies using the nuclear pore complex as a model protein complex describe optimization of purifications for the different proteins in the complex by examining 96 different conditions5. Nevertheless, for new purifications, it remains hard to correctly estimate the loss of factors in a standard AP–MS experiment due to washing and dilution effects during treatments (that is, false negatives). These considerations have pushed the concept of stabilizing PPIs before the actual homogenization step. A classical approach involves cross-linking with simple reagents (for example, formaldehyde) or with more advanced isotope-labelled cross-linkers (reviewed in ref. 2). However, experimental challenges such as cell permeability and reactivity still preclude the widespread use of cross-linking agents. Moreover, MS-generated spectra of cross-linked peptides are notoriously difficult to identify correctly. A recent lysis-independent solution involves the expression of a bait protein fused to a promiscuous biotin ligase, which results in labelling of proteins proximal to the activity of the enzyme-tagged bait protein6. When compared with AP–MS, this BioID approach delivers a complementary set of candidate proteins, including novel interaction partners78. Such particular studies clearly underscore the need for complementary approaches in the co-complex strategies.

The evolutionary stress on viruses promoted highly condensed coding of information and maximal functionality for small genomes. Accordingly, for HIV-1 it is sufficient to express a single protein, the p55 GAG protein, for efficient production of virus-like particles (VLPs) from cells910. This protein is highly mobile before its accumulation in cholesterol-rich regions of the membrane, where multimerization initiates the budding process11. A total of 4,000–5,000 GAG molecules is required to form a single particle of about 145 nm (ref. 12). Both VLPs and mature viruses contain a number of host proteins that are recruited by binding to viral proteins. These proteins can either contribute to the infectivity (for example, Cyclophilin/FKBPA13) or act as antiviral proteins preventing the spreading of the virus (for example, APOBEC proteins14).

We here describe the development and application of Virotrap, an elegant co-purification strategy based on the trapping of a bait protein together with its associated protein partners in VLPs that are budded from the cell. After enrichment, these particles can be analysed by targeted (for example, western blotting) or unbiased approaches (MS-based proteomics). Virotrap allows detection of known binary PPIs, analysis of protein complexes and their dynamics, and readily detects protein binders for small molecules.

Concept of the Virotrap system

Classical AP–MS approaches rely on cell homogenization to access protein complexes, a step that can vary significantly with the lysis conditions (detergents, salt concentrations, pH conditions and so on)5. To eliminate the homogenization step in AP–MS, we reasoned that incorporation of a protein complex inside a secreted VLP traps the interaction partners under native conditions and protects them during further purification. We thus explored the possibility of protein complex packaging by the expression of GAG-bait protein chimeras (Fig. 1) as expression of GAG results in the release of VLPs from the cells910. As a first PPI pair to evaluate this concept, we selected the HRAS protein as a bait combined with the RAF1 prey protein. We were able to specifically detect the HRAS–RAF1 interaction following enrichment of VLPs via ultracentrifugation (Supplementary Fig. 1a). To prevent tedious ultracentrifugation steps, we designed a novel single-step protocol wherein we co-express the vesicular stomatitis virus glycoprotein (VSV-G) together with a tagged version of this glycoprotein in addition to the GAG bait and prey. Both tagged and untagged VSV-G proteins are probably presented as trimers on the surface of the VLPs, allowing efficient antibody-based recovery from large volumes. The HRAS–RAF1 interaction was confirmed using this single-step protocol (Supplementary Fig. 1b). No associations with unrelated bait or prey proteins were observed for both protocols.

Figure 1: Schematic representation of the Virotrap strategy.



Expression of a GAG-bait fusion protein (1) results in submembrane multimerization (2) and subsequent budding of VLPs from cells (3). Interaction partners of the bait protein are also trapped within these VLPs and can be identified after purification by western blotting or MS analysis (4).

Virotrap for the detection of binary interactions

We next explored the reciprocal detection of a set of PPI pairs, which were selected based on published evidence and cytosolic localization15. After single-step purification and western blot analysis, we could readily detect reciprocal interactions between CDK2 and CKS1B, LCP2 and GRAP2, and S100A1 and S100B (Fig. 2a). Only for the LCP2 prey we observed nonspecific association with an irrelevant bait construct. However, the particle levels of the GRAP2 bait were substantially lower as compared with those of the GAG control construct (GAG protein levels in VLPs; Fig. 2a, second panel of the LCP2 prey). After quantification of the intensities of bait and prey proteins and normalization of prey levels using bait levels, we observed a strong enrichment for the GAG-GRAP2 bait (Supplementary Fig. 2).


Virotrap for unbiased discovery of novel interactions

For the detection of novel interaction partners, we scaled up VLP production and purification protocols (Supplementary Fig. 5 and Supplementary Note 1 for an overview of the protocol) and investigated protein partners trapped using the following bait proteins: Fas-associated via death domain (FADD), A20 (TNFAIP3), nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) essential modifier (IKBKG), TRAF family member-associated NF-κB activator (TANK), MYD88 and ring finger protein 41 (RNF41). To obtain specific interactors from the lists of identified proteins, we challenged the data with a combined protein list of 19 unrelated Virotrap experiments (Supplementary Table 1 for an overview). Figure 3 shows the design and the list of candidate interactors obtained after removal of all proteins that were found in the 19 control samples (including removal of proteins from the control list identified with a single peptide). The remaining list of confident protein identifications (identified with at least two peptides in at least two biological repeats) reveals both known and novel candidate interaction partners. All candidate interactors including single peptide protein identifications are given in Supplementary Data 2 and also include recurrent protein identifications of known interactors based on a single peptide; for example, CASP8 for FADD and TANK for NEMO. Using alternative methods, we confirmed the interaction between A20 and FADD, and the associations with transmembrane proteins (insulin receptor and insulin-like growth factor receptor 1) that were captured using RNF41 as a bait (Supplementary Fig. 6). To address the use of Virotrap for the detection of dynamic interactions, we activated the NF-κB pathway via the tumour necrosis factor (TNF) receptor (TNFRSF1A) using TNFα (TNF) and performed Virotrap analysis using A20 as bait (Fig. 3). This resulted in the additional enrichment of receptor-interacting kinase (RIPK1), TNFR1-associated via death domain (TRADD), TNFRSF1A and TNF itself, confirming the expected activated complex20.

Figure 3: Use of Virotrap for unbiased interactome analysis


Figure 4: Use of Virotrap for detection of protein partners of small molecules.



Lysis conditions used in AP–MS strategies are critical for the preservation of protein complexes. A multitude of lysis conditions have been described, culminating in a recent report where protein complex stability was assessed under 96 lysis/purification protocols5. Moreover, the authors suggest to optimize the conditions for every complex, implying an important workload for researchers embarking on protein complex analysis using classical AP–MS. As lysis results in a profound change of the subcellular context and significantly alters the concentration of proteins, loss of complex integrity during a classical AP–MS protocol can be expected. A clear evolution towards ‘lysis-independent’ approaches in the co-complex analysis field is evident with the introduction of BioID6 and APEX25 where proximal proteins, including proteins residing in the complex, are labelled with biotin by an enzymatic activity fused to a bait protein. A side-by-side comparison between classical AP–MS and BioID showed overlapping and unique candidate binding proteins for both approaches78, supporting the notion that complementary methods are needed to provide a comprehensive view on protein complexes. This has also been clearly demonstrated for binary approaches15 and is a logical consequence of the heterogenic nature underlying PPIs (binding mechanism, requirement for posttranslational modifications, location, affinity and so on).

In this report, we explore an alternative, yet complementary method to isolate protein complexes without interfering with cellular integrity. By trapping protein complexes in the protective environment of a virus-like shell, the intact complexes are preserved during the purification process. This constitutes a new concept in co-complex analysis wherein complex stability is physically guaranteed by a protective, physical structure. A comparison of our Virotrap approach with AP–MS shows complementary data, with specific false positives and false negatives for both methods (Supplementary Fig. 7).

The current implementation of the Virotrap platform implies the use of a GAG-bait construct resulting in considerable expression of the bait protein. Different strategies are currently pursued to reduce bait expression including co-expression of a native GAG protein together with the GAG-bait protein, not only reducing bait expression but also creating more ‘space’ in the particles potentially accommodating larger bait protein complexes. Nevertheless, the presence of the bait on the forming GAG scaffold creates an intracellular affinity matrix (comparable to the early in vitro affinity columns for purification of interaction partners from lysates26) that has the potential to compete with endogenous complexes by avidity effects. This avidity effect is a powerful mechanism that aids in the recruitment of cyclophilin to GAG27, a well-known weak interaction (Kd=16 μM (ref. 28)) detectable as a background association in the Virotrap system. Although background binding may be increased by elevated bait expression, weaker associations are readily detectable (for example, MAL—MYD88-binding study; Fig. 2c).

The size of Virotrap particles (around 145 nm) suggests limitations in the size of the protein complex that can be accommodated in the particles. Further experimentation is required to define the maximum size of proteins or the number of protein complexes that can be trapped inside the particles.


In conclusion, Virotrap captures significant parts of known interactomes and reveals new interactions. This cell lysis-free approach purifies protein complexes under native conditions and thus provides a powerful method to complement AP–MS or other PPI data. Future improvements of the system include strategies to reduce bait expression to more physiological levels and application of advanced data analysis options to filter out background. These developments can further aid in the deployment of Virotrap as a powerful extension of the current co-complex technology arsenal.


New Autism Blood Biomarker Identified

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have identified a blood biomarker that may aid in earlier diagnosis of children with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD



In a recent edition of Scientific Reports, UT Southwestern researchers reported on the identification of a blood biomarker that could distinguish the majority of ASD study participants versus a control group of similar age range. In addition, the biomarker was significantly correlated with the level of communication impairment, suggesting that the blood test may give insight into ASD severity.

“Numerous investigators have long sought a biomarker for ASD,” said Dr. Dwight German, study senior author and Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern. “The blood biomarker reported here along with others we are testing can represent a useful test with over 80 percent accuracy in identifying ASD.”

ASD1 –  was 66 percent accurate in diagnosing ASD. When combined with thyroid stimulating hormone level measurements, the ASD1-binding biomarker was 73 percent accurate at diagnosis


A Search for Blood Biomarkers for Autism: Peptoids

Sayed ZamanUmar Yazdani,…, Laura Hewitson & Dwight C. German
Scientific Reports 2016; 6(19164) http://dx.doi.org:/10.1038/srep19164

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social interaction and communication, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior. In order to identify individuals with ASD and initiate interventions at the earliest possible age, biomarkers for the disorder are desirable. Research findings have identified widespread changes in the immune system in children with autism, at both systemic and cellular levels. In an attempt to find candidate antibody biomarkers for ASD, highly complex libraries of peptoids (oligo-N-substituted glycines) were screened for compounds that preferentially bind IgG from boys with ASD over typically developing (TD) boys. Unexpectedly, many peptoids were identified that preferentially bound IgG from TD boys. One of these peptoids was studied further and found to bind significantly higher levels (>2-fold) of the IgG1 subtype in serum from TD boys (n = 60) compared to ASD boys (n = 74), as well as compared to older adult males (n = 53). Together these data suggest that ASD boys have reduced levels (>50%) of an IgG1 antibody, which resembles the level found normally with advanced age. In this discovery study, the ASD1 peptoid was 66% accurate in predicting ASD.


Peptoid libraries have been used previously to search for autoantibodies for neurodegenerative diseases19 and for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)21. In the case of SLE, peptoids were identified that could identify subjects with the disease and related syndromes with moderate sensitivity (70%) and excellent specificity (97.5%). Peptoids were used to measure IgG levels from both healthy subjects and SLE patients. Binding to the SLE-peptoid was significantly higher in SLE patients vs. healthy controls. The IgG bound to the SLE-peptoid was found to react with several autoantigens, suggesting that the peptoids are capable of interacting with multiple, structurally similar molecules. These data indicate that IgG binding to peptoids can identify subjects with high levels of pathogenic autoantibodies vs. a single antibody.

In the present study, the ASD1 peptoid binds significantly lower levels of IgG1 in ASD males vs. TD males. This finding suggests that the ASD1 peptoid recognizes antibody(-ies) of an IgG1 subtype that is (are) significantly lower in abundance in the ASD males vs. TD males. Although a previous study14 has demonstrated lower levels of plasma IgG in ASD vs. TD children, here, we additionally quantified serum IgG levels in our individuals and found no difference in IgG between the two groups (data not shown). Furthermore, our IgG levels did not correlate with ASD1 binding levels, indicating that ASD1 does not bind IgG generically, and that the peptoid’s ability to differentiate between ASD and TD males is related to a specific antibody(-ies).

ASD subjects underwent a diagnostic evaluation using the ADOS and ADI-R, and application of the DSM-IV criteria prior to study inclusion. Only those subjects with a diagnosis of Autistic Disorder were included in the study. The ADOS is a semi-structured observation of a child’s behavior that allows examiners to observe the three core domains of ASD symptoms: reciprocal social interaction, communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviors1. When ADOS subdomain scores were compared with peptoid binding, the only significant relationship was with Social Interaction. However, the positive correlation would suggest that lower peptoid binding is associated with better social interaction, not poorer social interaction as anticipated.

The ADI-R is a structured parental interview that measures the core features of ASD symptoms in the areas of reciprocal social interaction, communication and language, and patterns of behavior. Of the three ADI-R subdomains, only the Communication domain was related to ASD1 peptoid binding, and this correlation was negative suggesting that low peptoid binding is associated with greater communication problems. These latter data are similar to the findings of Heuer et al.14 who found that children with autism with low levels of plasma IgG have high scores on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (p < 0.0001). Thus, peptoid binding to IgG1 may be useful as a severity marker for ASD allowing for further characterization of individuals, but further research is needed.

It is interesting that in serum samples from older men, the ASD1 binding is similar to that in the ASD boys. This is consistent with the observation that with aging there is a reduction in the strength of the immune system, and the changes are gender-specific25. Recent studies using parabiosis26, in which blood from young mice reverse age-related impairments in cognitive function and synaptic plasticity in old mice, reveal that blood constituents from young subjects may contain important substances for maintaining neuronal functions. Work is in progress to identify the antibody/antibodies that are differentially binding to the ASD1 peptoid, which appear as a single band on the electrophoresis gel (Fig. 4).


The ADI-R is a structured parental interview that measures the core features of ASD symptoms in the areas of reciprocal social interaction, communication and language, and patterns of behavior. Of the three ADI-R subdomains, only the Communication domain was related to ASD1 peptoid binding, and this correlation was negative suggesting that low peptoid binding is associated with greater communication problems. These latter data are similar to the findings of Heuer et al.14 who found that children with autism with low levels of plasma IgG have high scores on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (p < 0.0001). Thus, peptoid binding to IgG1 may be useful as a severity marker for ASD allowing for further characterization of individuals, but further research is needed.


  • Titration of IgG binding to ASD1 using serum pooled from 10 TD males and 10 ASD males demonstrates ASD1’s ability to differentiate between the two groups. (B)Detecting IgG1 subclass instead of total IgG amplifies this differentiation. (C) IgG1 binding of individual ASD (n=74) and TD (n=60) male serum samples (1:100 dilution) to ASD1 significantly differs with TD>ASD. In addition, IgG1 binding of older adult male (AM) serum samples (n=53) to ASD1 is significantly lower than TD males, and not different from ASD males. The three groups were compared with a Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA, H = 10.1781, p<0.006. **p<0.005. Error bars show SEM. (D) Receiver-operating characteristic curve for ASD1’s ability to discriminate between ASD and TD males.



Association between peptoid binding and ADOS and ADI-R subdomains

Higher scores in any domain on the ADOS and ADI-R are indicative of more abnormal behaviors and/or symptoms. Among ADOS subdomains, there was no significant relationship between Communication and peptoid binding (z = 0.04, p = 0.966), Communication + Social interaction (z = 1.53, p = 0.127), or Stereotyped Behaviors and Restrictive Interests (SBRI) (z = 0.46, p = 0.647). Higher scores on the Social Interaction domain were significantly associated with higher peptoid binding (z = 2.04, p = 0.041).

Among ADI-R subdomains, higher scores on the Communication domain were associated with lower levels of peptoid binding (z = −2.28, p = 0.023). There was not a significant relationship between Social Interaction (z = 0.07, p = 0.941) or Restrictive/Repetitive Stereotyped Behaviors (z = −1.40, p = 0.162) and peptoid binding.



Computational Model Finds New Protein-Protein Interactions

Researchers at University of Pittsburgh have discovered 500 new protein-protein interactions (PPIs) associated with genes linked to schizophrenia.


Using a computational model they developed, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have discovered more than 500 new protein-protein interactions (PPIs) associated with genes linked to schizophrenia. The findings, published online in npj Schizophrenia, a Nature Publishing Group journal, could lead to greater understanding of the biological underpinnings of this mental illness, as well as point the way to treatments.

There have been many genome-wide association studies (GWAS) that have identified gene variants associated with an increased risk for schizophrenia, but in most cases there is little known about the proteins that these genes make, what they do and how they interact, said senior investigator Madhavi Ganapathiraju, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical informatics, Pitt School of Medicine.

“GWAS studies and other research efforts have shown us what genes might be relevant in schizophrenia,” she said. “What we have done is the next step. We are trying to understand how these genes relate to each other, which could show us the biological pathways that are important in the disease.”

Each gene makes proteins and proteins typically interact with each other in a biological process. Information about interacting partners can shed light on the role of a gene that has not been studied, revealing pathways and biological processes associated with the disease and also its relation to other complex diseases.

Dr. Ganapathiraju’s team developed a computational model called High-Precision Protein Interaction Prediction (HiPPIP) and applied it to discover PPIs of schizophrenia-linked genes identified through GWAS, as well as historically known risk genes. They found 504 never-before known PPIs, and noted also that while schizophrenia-linked genes identified historically and through GWAS had little overlap, the model showed they shared more than 100 common interactors.

“We can infer what the protein might do by checking out the company it keeps,” Dr. Ganapathiraju explained. “For example, if I know you have many friends who play hockey, it could mean that you are involved in hockey, too. Similarly, if we see that an unknown protein interacts with multiple proteins involved in neural signaling, for example, there is a high likelihood that the unknown entity also is involved in the same.”

Dr. Ganapathiraju and colleagues have drawn such inferences on protein function based on the PPIs of proteins, and made their findings available on a website Schizo-Pi. This information can be used by biologists to explore the schizophrenia interactome with the aim of understanding more about the disease or developing new treatment drugs.

Schizophrenia interactome with 504 novel protein–protein interactions

MK GanapathirajuM Thahir,…,  CE LoscherEM Bauer & S Chaparala
npj Schizophrenia 2016;  2(16012)   http://dx.doi.org:/10.1038/npjschz.2016.12

(GWAS) have revealed the role of rare and common genetic variants, but the functional effects of the risk variants remain to be understood. Protein interactome-based studies can facilitate the study of molecular mechanisms by which the risk genes relate to schizophrenia (SZ) genesis, but protein–protein interactions (PPIs) are unknown for many of the liability genes. We developed a computational model to discover PPIs, which is found to be highly accurate according to computational evaluations and experimental validations of selected PPIs. We present here, 365 novel PPIs of liability genes identified by the SZ Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC). Seventeen genes that had no previously known interactions have 57 novel interactions by our method. Among the new interactors are 19 drug targets that are targeted by 130 drugs. In addition, we computed 147 novel PPIs of 25 candidate genes investigated in the pre-GWAS era. While there is little overlap between the GWAS genes and the pre-GWAS genes, the interactomes reveal that they largely belong to the same pathways, thus reconciling the apparent disparities between the GWAS and prior gene association studies. The interactome including 504 novel PPIs overall, could motivate other systems biology studies and trials with repurposed drugs. The PPIs are made available on a webserver, called Schizo-Pi at http://severus.dbmi.pitt.edu/schizo-pi with advanced search capabilities.

Schizophrenia (SZ) is a common, potentially severe psychiatric disorder that afflicts all populations.1 Gene mapping studies suggest that SZ is a complex disorder, with a cumulative impact of variable genetic effects coupled with environmental factors.2 As many as 38 genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have been reported on SZ out of a total of 1,750 GWAS publications on 1,087 traits or diseases reported in the GWAS catalog maintained by the National Human Genome Research Institute of USA3 (as of April 2015), revealing the common variants associated with SZ.4 The SZ Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC) identified 108 genetic loci that likely confer risk for SZ.5 While the role of genetics has been clearly validated by this study, the functional impact of the risk variants is not well-understood.6,7 Several of the genes implicated by the GWAS have unknown functions and could participate in possibly hitherto unknown pathways.8 Further, there is little or no overlap between the genes identified through GWAS and ‘candidate genes’ proposed in the pre-GWAS era.9

Interactome-based studies can be useful in discovering the functional associations of genes. For example,disrupted in schizophrenia 1 (DISC1), an SZ related candidate gene originally had no known homolog in humans. Although it had well-characterized protein domains such as coiled-coil domains and leucine-zipper domains, its function was unknown.10,11 Once its protein–protein interactions (PPIs) were determined using yeast 2-hybrid technology,12 investigators successfully linked DISC1 to cAMP signaling, axon elongation, and neuronal migration, and accelerated the research pertaining to SZ in general, and DISC1 in particular.13 Typically such studies are carried out on known protein–protein interaction (PPI) networks, or as in the case of DISC1, when there is a specific gene of interest, its PPIs are determined by methods such as yeast 2-hybrid technology.

Knowledge of human PPI networks is thus valuable for accelerating discovery of protein function, and indeed, biomedical research in general. However, of the hundreds of thousands of biophysical PPIs thought to exist in the human interactome,14,15 <100,000 are known today (Human Protein Reference Database, HPRD16 and BioGRID17 databases). Gold standard experimental methods for the determination of all the PPIs in human interactome are time-consuming, expensive and may not even be feasible, as about 250 million pairs of proteins would need to be tested overall; high-throughput methods such as yeast 2-hybrid have important limitations for whole interactome determination as they have a low recall of 23% (i.e., remaining 77% of true interactions need to be determined by other means), and a low precision (i.e., the screens have to be repeated multiple times to achieve high selectivity).18,19Computational methods are therefore necessary to complete the interactome expeditiously. Algorithms have begun emerging to predict PPIs using statistical machine learning on the characteristics of the proteins, but these algorithms are employed predominantly to study yeast. Two significant computational predictions have been reported for human interactome; although they have had high false positive rates, these methods have laid the foundation for computational prediction of human PPIs.20,21

We have created a new PPI prediction model called High-Confidence Protein–Protein Interaction Prediction (HiPPIP) model. Novel interactions predicted with this model are making translational impact. For example, we discovered a PPI between OASL and DDX58, which on validation showed that an increased expression of OASL could boost innate immunity to combat influenza by activating the RIG-I pathway.22 Also, the interactome of the genes associated with congenital heart disease showed that the disease morphogenesis has a close connection with the structure and function of cilia.23Here, we describe the HiPPIP model and its application to SZ genes to construct the SZ interactome. After computational evaluations and experimental validations of selected novel PPIs, we present here 504 highly confident novel PPIs in the SZ interactome, shedding new light onto several uncharacterized genes that are associated with SZ.

We developed a computational model called HiPPIP to predict PPIs (see Methods and Supplementary File 1). The model has been evaluated by computational methods and experimental validations and is found to be highly accurate. Evaluations on a held-out test data showed a precision of 97.5% and a recall of 5%. 5% recall out of 150,000 to 600,000 estimated number of interactions in the human interactome corresponds to 7,500–30,000 novel PPIs in the whole interactome. Note that, it is likely that the real precision would be higher than 97.5% because in this test data, randomly paired proteins are treated as non-interacting protein pairs, whereas some of them may actually be interacting pairs with a small probability; thus, some of the pairs that are treated as false positives in test set are likely to be true but hitherto unknown interactions. In Figure 1a, we show the precision versus recall of our method on ‘hub proteins’ where we considered all pairs that received a score >0.5 by HiPPIP to be novel interactions. In Figure 1b, we show the number of true positives versus false positives observed in hub proteins. Both these figures also show our method to be superior in comparison to the prediction of membrane-receptor interactome by Qi et al’s.24 True positives versus false positives are also shown for individual hub proteins by our method in Figure 1cand by Qi et al’s.23 in Figure 1d. These evaluations showed that our predictions contain mostly true positives. Unlike in other domains where ranked lists are commonly used such as information retrieval, in PPI prediction the ‘false positives’ may actually be unlabeled instances that are indeed true interactions that are not yet discovered. In fact, such unlabeled pairs predicted as interactors of the hub gene HMGB1 (namely, the pairs HMGB1-KL and HMGB1-FLT1) were validated by experimental methods and found to be true PPIs (See the Figures e–g inSupplementary File 3). Thus, we concluded that the protein pairs that received a score of ⩾0.5 are highly confident to be true interactions. The pairs that receive a score less than but close to 0.5 (i.e., in the range of 0.4–0.5) may also contain several true PPIs; however, we cannot confidently say that all in this range are true PPIs. Only the PPIs predicted with a score >0.5 are included in the interactome.

Figure 1


Computational evaluation of predicted protein–protein interactions on hub proteins: (a) precision recall curve. (b) True positive versus false positives in ranked lists of hub type membrane receptors for our method and that by Qi et al. True positives versus false positives are shown for individual membrane receptors by our method in (c) and by Qi et al. in (d). Thick line is the average, which is also the same as shown in (b). Note:x-axis is recall in (a), whereas it is number of false positives in (bd). The range of y-axis is observed by varying the threshold from 1.0–0 in (a), and to 0.5 in (bd).

SZ interactome

By applying HiPPIP to the GWAS genes and Historic (pre-GWAS) genes, we predicted over 500 high confidence new PPIs adding to about 1400 previously known PPIs.

Schizophrenia interactome: network view of the schizophrenia interactome is shown as a graph, where genes are shown as nodes and PPIs as edges connecting the nodes. Schizophrenia-associated genes are shown as dark blue nodes, novel interactors as red color nodes and known interactors as blue color nodes. The source of the schizophrenia genes is indicated by its label font, where Historic genes are shown italicized, GWAS genes are shown in bold, and the one gene that is common to both is shown in italicized and bold. For clarity, the source is also indicated by the shape of the node (triangular for GWAS and square for Historic and hexagonal for both). Symbols are shown only for the schizophrenia-associated genes; actual interactions may be accessed on the web. Red edges are the novel interactions, whereas blue edges are known interactions. GWAS, genome-wide association studies of schizophrenia; PPI, protein–protein interaction.



Webserver of SZ interactome

We have made the known and novel interactions of all SZ-associated genes available on a webserver called Schizo-Pi, at the addresshttp://severus.dbmi.pitt.edu/schizo-pi. This webserver is similar to Wiki-Pi33 which presents comprehensive annotations of both participating proteins of a PPI side-by-side. The difference between Wiki-Pi which we developed earlier, and Schizo-Pi, is the inclusion of novel predicted interactions of the SZ genes into the latter.

Despite the many advances in biomedical research, identifying the molecular mechanisms underlying the disease is still challenging. Studies based on protein interactions were proven to be valuable in identifying novel gene associations that could shed new light on disease pathology.35 The interactome including more than 500 novel PPIs will help to identify pathways and biological processes associated with the disease and also its relation to other complex diseases. It also helps identify potential drugs that could be repurposed to use for SZ treatment.

Functional and pathway enrichment in SZ interactome

When a gene of interest has little known information, functions of its interacting partners serve as a starting point to hypothesize its own function. We computed statistically significant enrichment of GO biological process terms among the interacting partners of each of the genes using BinGO36 (see online at http://severus.dbmi.pitt.edu/schizo-pi).


Protein aggregation and aggregate toxicity: new insights into protein folding, misfolding diseases and biological evolution

Massimo Stefani · Christopher M. Dobson

Abstract The deposition of proteins in the form of amyloid fibrils and plaques is the characteristic feature of more than 20 degenerative conditions affecting either the central nervous system or a variety of peripheral tissues. As these conditions include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and the prion diseases, several forms of fatal systemic amyloidosis, and at least one condition associated with medical intervention (haemodialysis), they are of enormous importance in the context of present-day human health and welfare. Much remains to be learned about the mechanism by which the proteins associated with these diseases aggregate and form amyloid structures, and how the latter affect the functions of the organs with which they are associated. A great deal of information concerning these diseases has emerged, however, during the past 5 years, much of it causing a number of fundamental assumptions about the amyloid diseases to be reexamined. For example, it is now apparent that the ability to form amyloid structures is not an unusual feature of the small number of proteins associated with these diseases but is instead a general property of polypeptide chains. It has also been found recently that aggregates of proteins not associated with amyloid diseases can impair the ability of cells to function to a similar extent as aggregates of proteins linked with specific neurodegenerative conditions. Moreover, the mature amyloid fibrils or plaques appear to be substantially less toxic than the prefibrillar aggregates that are their precursors. The toxicity of these early aggregates appears to result from an intrinsic ability to impair fundamental cellular processes by interacting with cellular membranes, causing oxidative stress and increases in free Ca2+ that eventually lead to apoptotic or necrotic cell death. The ‘new view’ of these diseases also suggests that other degenerative conditions could have similar underlying origins to those of the amyloidoses. In addition, cellular protection mechanisms, such as molecular chaperones and the protein degradation machinery, appear to be crucial in the prevention of disease in normally functioning living organisms. It also suggests some intriguing new factors that could be of great significance in the evolution of biological molecules and the mechanisms that regulate their behaviour.

The genetic information within a cell encodes not only the specific structures and functions of proteins but also the way these structures are attained through the process known as protein folding. In recent years many of the underlying features of the fundamental mechanism of this complex process and the manner in which it is regulated in living systems have emerged from a combination of experimental and theoretical studies [1]. The knowledge gained from these studies has also raised a host of interesting issues. It has become apparent, for example, that the folding and unfolding of proteins is associated with a whole range of cellular processes from the trafficking of molecules to specific organelles to the regulation of the cell cycle and the immune response. Such observations led to the inevitable conclusion that the failure to fold correctly, or to remain correctly folded, gives rise to many different types of biological malfunctions and hence to many different forms of disease [2]. In addition, it has been recognised recently that a large number of eukaryotic genes code for proteins that appear to be ‘natively unfolded’, and that proteins can adopt, under certain circumstances, highly organised multi-molecular assemblies whose structures are not specifically encoded in the amino acid sequence. Both these observations have raised challenging questions about one of the most fundamental principles of biology: the close relationship between the sequence, structure and function of proteins, as we discuss below [3].

It is well established that proteins that are ‘misfolded’, i.e. that are not in their functionally relevant conformation, are devoid of normal biological activity. In addition, they often aggregate and/or interact inappropriately with other cellular components leading to impairment of cell viability and eventually to cell death. Many diseases, often known as misfolding or conformational diseases, ultimately result from the presence in a living system of protein molecules with structures that are ‘incorrect’, i.e. that differ from those in normally functioning organisms [4]. Such diseases include conditions in which a specific protein, or protein complex, fails to fold correctly (e.g. cystic fibrosis, Marfan syndrome, amyotonic lateral sclerosis) or is not sufficiently stable to perform its normal function (e.g. many forms of cancer). They also include conditions in which aberrant folding behaviour results in the failure of a protein to be correctly trafficked (e.g. familial hypercholesterolaemia, α1-antitrypsin deficiency, and some forms of retinitis pigmentosa) [4]. The tendency of proteins to aggregate, often to give species extremely intractable to dissolution and refolding, is of course also well known in other circumstances. Examples include the formation of inclusion bodies during overexpression of heterologous proteins in bacteria and the precipitation of proteins during laboratory purification procedures. Indeed, protein aggregation is well established as one of the major difficulties associated with the production and handling of proteins in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries [5].

Considerable attention is presently focused on a group of protein folding diseases known as amyloidoses. In these diseases specific peptides or proteins fail to fold or to remain correctly folded and then aggregate (often with other components) so as to give rise to ‘amyloid’ deposits in tissue. Amyloid structures can be recognised because they possess a series of specific tinctorial and biophysical characteristics that reflect a common core structure based on the presence of highly organised βsheets [6]. The deposits in strictly defined amyloidoses are extracellular and can often be observed as thread-like fibrillar structures, sometimes assembled further into larger aggregates or plaques. These diseases include a range of sporadic, familial or transmissible degenerative diseases, some of which affect the brain and the central nervous system (e.g. Alzheimer’s and Creutzfeldt-Jakob diseases), while others involve peripheral tissues and organs such as the liver, heart and spleen (e.g. systemic amyloidoses and type II diabetes) [7, 8]. In other forms of amyloidosis, such as primary or secondary systemic amyloidoses, proteinaceous deposits are found in skeletal tissue and joints (e.g. haemodialysis-related amyloidosis) as well as in several organs (e.g. heart and kidney). Yet other components such as collagen, glycosaminoglycans and proteins (e.g. serum amyloid protein) are often present in the deposits protecting them against degradation [9, 10, 11]. Similar deposits to those in the amyloidoses are, however, found intracellularly in other diseases; these can be localised either in the cytoplasm, in the form of specialised aggregates known as aggresomes or as Lewy or Russell bodies or in the nucleus (see below).

The presence in tissue of proteinaceous deposits is a hallmark of all these diseases, suggesting a causative link between aggregate formation and pathological symptoms (often known as the amyloid hypothesis) [7, 8, 12]. At the present time the link between amyloid formation and disease is widely accepted on the basis of a large number of biochemical and genetic studies. The specific nature of the pathogenic species, and the molecular basis of their ability to damage cells, are however, the subject of intense debate [13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20]. In neurodegenerative disorders it is very likely that the impairment of cellular function follows directly from the interactions of the aggregated proteins with cellular components [21, 22]. In the systemic non-neurological diseases, however, it is widely believed that the accumulation in vital organs of large amounts of amyloid deposits can by itself cause at least some of the clinical symptoms [23]. It is quite possible, however, that there are other more specific effects of aggregates on biochemical processes even in these diseases. The presence of extracellular or intracellular aggregates of a specific polypeptide molecule is a characteristic of all the 20 or so recognised amyloid diseases. The polypeptides involved include full length proteins (e.g. lysozyme or immunoglobulin light chains), biological peptides (amylin, atrial natriuretic factor) and fragments of larger proteins produced as a result of specific processing (e.g. the Alzheimer βpeptide) or of more general degradation [e.g. poly(Q) stretches cleaved from proteins with poly(Q) extensions such as huntingtin, ataxins and the androgen receptor]. The peptides and proteins associated with known amyloid diseases are listed in Table 1. In some cases the proteins involved have wild type sequences, as in sporadic forms of the diseases, but in other cases these are variants resulting from genetic mutations associated with familial forms of the diseases. In some cases both sporadic and familial diseases are associated with a given protein; in this case the mutational variants are usually associated with early-onset forms of the disease. In the case of the neurodegenerative diseases associated with the prion protein some forms of the diseases are transmissible. The existence of familial forms of a number of amyloid diseases has provided significant clues to the origins of the pathologies. For example, there are increasingly strong links between the age at onset of familial forms of disease and the effects of the mutations involved on the propensity of the affected proteins to aggregate in vitro. Such findings also support the link between the process of aggregation and the clinical manifestations of disease [24, 25].

The presence in cells of misfolded or aggregated proteins triggers a complex biological response. In the cytosol, this is referred to as the ‘heat shock response’ and in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) it is known as the ‘unfolded protein response’. These responses lead to the expression, among others, of the genes for heat shock proteins (Hsp, or molecular chaperone proteins) and proteins involved in the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway [26]. The evolution of such complex biochemical machinery testifies to the fact that it is necessary for cells to isolate and clear rapidly and efficiently any unfolded or incorrectly folded protein as soon as it appears. In itself this fact suggests that these species could have a generally adverse effect on cellular components and cell viability. Indeed, it was a major step forward in understanding many aspects of cell biology when it was recognised that proteins previously associated only with stress, such as heat shock, are in fact crucial in the normal functioning of living systems. This advance, for example, led to the discovery of the role of molecular chaperones in protein folding and in the normal ‘housekeeping’ processes that are inherent in healthy cells [27, 28]. More recently a number of degenerative diseases, both neurological and systemic, have been linked to, or shown to be affected by, impairment of the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway (Table 2). The diseases are primarily associated with a reduction in either the expression or the biological activity of Hsps, ubiquitin, ubiquitinating or deubiquitinating enzymes and the proteasome itself, as we show below [29, 30, 31, 32], or even to the failure of the quality control mechanisms that ensure proper maturation of proteins in the ER. The latter normally leads to degradation of a significant proportion of polypeptide chains before they have attained their native conformations through retrograde translocation to the cytosol [33, 34].


It is now well established that the molecular basis of protein aggregation into amyloid structures involves the existence of ‘misfolded’ forms of proteins, i.e. proteins that are not in the structures in which they normally function in vivo or of fragments of proteins resulting from degradation processes that are inherently unable to fold [4, 7, 8, 36]. Aggregation is one of the common consequences of a polypeptide chain failing to reach or maintain its functional three-dimensional structure. Such events can be associated with specific mutations, misprocessing phenomena, aberrant interactions with metal ions, changes in environmental conditions, such as pH or temperature, or chemical modification (oxidation, proteolysis). Perturbations in the conformational properties of the polypeptide chain resulting from such phenomena may affect equilibrium 1 in Fig. 1 increasing the population of partially unfolded, or misfolded, species that are much more aggregation-prone than the native state.

Fig. 1 Overview of the possible fates of a newly synthesised polypeptide chain. The equilibrium ① between the partially folded molecules and the natively folded ones is usually strongly in favour of the latter except as a result of specific mutations, chemical modifications or partially destabilising solution conditions. The increased equilibrium populations of molecules in the partially or completely unfolded ensemble of structures are usually degraded by the proteasome; when this clearance mechanism is impaired, such species often form disordered aggregates or shift equilibrium ② towards the nucleation of pre-fibrillar assemblies that eventually grow into mature fibrils (equilibrium ③). DANGER! indicates that pre-fibrillar aggregates in most cases display much higher toxicity than mature fibrils. Heat shock proteins (Hsp) can suppress the appearance of pre-fibrillar assemblies by minimising the population of the partially folded molecules by assisting in the correct folding of the nascent chain and the unfolded protein response target incorrectly folded proteins for degradation.


Little is known at present about the detailed arrangement of the polypeptide chains themselves within amyloid fibrils, either those parts involved in the core βstrands or in regions that connect the various β-strands. Recent data suggest that the sheets are relatively untwisted and may in some cases at least exist in quite specific supersecondary structure motifs such as β-helices [6, 40] or the recently proposed µ-helix [41]. It seems possible that there may be significant differences in the way the strands are assembled depending on characteristics of the polypeptide chain involved [6, 42]. Factors including length, sequence (and in some cases the presence of disulphide bonds or post-translational modifications such as glycosylation) may be important in determining details of the structures. Several recent papers report structural models for amyloid fibrils containing different polypeptide chains, including the Aβ40 peptide, insulin and fragments of the prion protein, based on data from such techniques as cryo-electron microscopy and solid-state magnetic resonance spectroscopy [43, 44]. These models have much in common and do indeed appear to reflect the fact that the structures of different fibrils are likely to be variations on a common theme [40]. It is also emerging that there may be some common and highly organised assemblies of amyloid protofilaments that are not simply extended threads or ribbons. It is clear, for example, that in some cases large closed loops can be formed [45, 46, 47], and there may be specific types of relatively small spherical or ‘doughnut’ shaped structures that can result in at least some circumstances (see below).


The similarity of some early amyloid aggregates with the pores resulting from oligomerisation of bacterial toxins and pore-forming eukaryotic proteins (see below) also suggest that the basic mechanism of protein aggregation into amyloid structures may not only be associated with diseases but in some cases could result in species with functional significance. Recent evidence indicates that a variety of micro-organisms may exploit the controlled aggregation of specific proteins (or their precursors) to generate functional structures. Examples include bacterial curli [52] and proteins of the interior fibre cells of mammalian ocular lenses, whose β-sheet arrays seem to be organised in an amyloid-like supramolecular order [53]. In this case the inherent stability of amyloid-like protein structure may contribute to the long-term structural integrity and transparency of the lens. Recently it has been hypothesised that amyloid-like aggregates of serum amyloid A found in secondary amyloidoses following chronic inflammatory diseases protect the host against bacterial infections by inducing lysis of bacterial cells [54]. One particularly interesting example is a ‘misfolded’ form of the milk protein α-lactalbumin that is formed at low pH and trapped by the presence of specific lipid molecules [55]. This form of the protein has been reported to trigger apoptosis selectively in tumour cells providing evidence for its importance in protecting infants from certain types of cancer [55]. ….

Amyloid formation is a generic property of polypeptide chains ….

It is clear that the presence of different side chains can influence the details of amyloid structures, particularly the assembly of protofibrils, and that they give rise to the variations on the common structural theme discussed above. More fundamentally, the composition and sequence of a peptide or protein affects profoundly its propensity to form amyloid structures under given conditions (see below).

Because the formation of stable protein aggregates of amyloid type does not normally occur in vivo under physiological conditions, it is likely that the proteins encoded in the genomes of living organisms are endowed with structural adaptations that mitigate against aggregation under these conditions. A recent survey involving a large number of structures of β-proteins highlights several strategies through which natural proteins avoid intermolecular association of β-strands in their native states [65].  Other surveys of protein databases indicate that nature disfavours sequences of alternating polar and nonpolar residues, as well as clusters of several consecutive hydrophobic residues, both of which enhance the tendency of a protein to aggregate prior to becoming completely folded [66, 67].


Precursors of amyloid fibrils can be toxic to cells

It was generally assumed until recently that the proteinaceous aggregates most toxic to cells are likely to be mature amyloid fibrils, the form of aggregates that have been commonly detected in pathological deposits. It therefore appeared probable that the pathogenic features underlying amyloid diseases are a consequence of the interaction with cells of extracellular deposits of aggregated material. As well as forming the basis for understanding the fundamental causes of these diseases, this scenario stimulated the exploration of therapeutic approaches to amyloidoses that focused mainly on the search for molecules able to impair the growth and deposition of fibrillar forms of aggregated proteins. ….

Structural basis and molecular features of amyloid toxicity

The presence of toxic aggregates inside or outside cells can impair a number of cell functions that ultimately lead to cell death by an apoptotic mechanism [95, 96]. Recent research suggests, however, that in most cases initial perturbations to fundamental cellular processes underlie the impairment of cell function induced by aggregates of disease-associated polypeptides. Many pieces of data point to a central role of modifications to the intracellular redox status and free Ca2+ levels in cells exposed to toxic aggregates [45, 89, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101]. A modification of the intracellular redox status in such cells is associated with a sharp increase in the quantity of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that is reminiscent of the oxidative burst by which leukocytes destroy invading foreign cells after phagocytosis. In addition, changes have been observed in reactive nitrogen species, lipid peroxidation, deregulation of NO metabolism [97], protein nitrosylation [102] and upregulation of heme oxygenase-1, a specific marker of oxidative stress [103]. ….

Results have recently been reported concerning the toxicity towards cultured cells of aggregates of poly(Q) peptides which argues against a disease mechanism based on specific toxic features of the aggregates. These results indicate that there is a close relationship between the toxicity of proteins with poly(Q) extensions and their nuclear localisation. In addition they support the hypotheses that the toxicity of poly(Q) aggregates can be a consequence of altered interactions with nuclear coactivator or corepressor molecules including p53, CBP, Sp1 and TAF130 or of the interaction with transcription factors and nuclear coactivators, such as CBP, endowed with short poly(Q) stretches ([95] and references therein)…..

Concluding remarks
The data reported in the past few years strongly suggest that the conversion of normally soluble proteins into amyloid fibrils and the toxicity of small aggregates appearing during the early stages of the formation of the latter are common or generic features of polypeptide chains. Moreover, the molecular basis of this toxicity also appears to display common features between the different systems that have so far been studied. The ability of many, perhaps all, natural polypeptides to ‘misfold’ and convert into toxic aggregates under suitable conditions suggests that one of the most important driving forces in the evolution of proteins must have been the negative selection against sequence changes that increase the tendency of a polypeptide chain to aggregate. Nevertheless, as protein folding is a stochastic process, and no such process can be completely infallible, misfolded proteins or protein folding intermediates in equilibrium with the natively folded molecules must continuously form within cells. Thus mechanisms to deal with such species must have co-evolved with proteins. Indeed, it is clear that misfolding, and the associated tendency to aggregate, is kept under control by molecular chaperones, which render the resulting species harmless assisting in their refolding, or triggering their degradation by the cellular clearance machinery [166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 175, 177, 178].

Misfolded and aggregated species are likely to owe their toxicity to the exposure on their surfaces of regions of proteins that are buried in the interior of the structures of the correctly folded native states. The exposure of large patches of hydrophobic groups is likely to be particularly significant as such patches favour the interaction of the misfolded species with cell membranes [44, 83, 89, 90, 91, 93]. Interactions of this type are likely to lead to the impairment of the function and integrity of the membranes involved, giving rise to a loss of regulation of the intracellular ion balance and redox status and eventually to cell death. In addition, misfolded proteins undoubtedly interact inappropriately with other cellular components, potentially giving rise to the impairment of a range of other biological processes. Under some conditions the intracellular content of aggregated species may increase directly, due to an enhanced propensity of incompletely folded or misfolded species to aggregate within the cell itself. This could occur as the result of the expression of mutational variants of proteins with decreased stability or cooperativity or with an intrinsically higher propensity to aggregate. It could also occur as a result of the overproduction of some types of protein, for example, because of other genetic factors or other disease conditions, or because of perturbations to the cellular environment that generate conditions favouring aggregation, such as heat shock or oxidative stress. Finally, the accumulation of misfolded or aggregated proteins could arise from the chaperone and clearance mechanisms becoming overwhelmed as a result of specific mutant phenotypes or of the general effects of ageing [173, 174].

The topics discussed in this review not only provide a great deal of evidence for the ‘new view’ that proteins have an intrinsic capability of misfolding and forming structures such as amyloid fibrils but also suggest that the role of molecular chaperones is even more important than was thought in the past. The role of these ubiquitous proteins in enhancing the efficiency of protein folding is well established [185]. It could well be that they are at least as important in controlling the harmful effects of misfolded or aggregated proteins as in enhancing the yield of functional molecules.


Nutritional Status is Associated with Faster Cognitive Decline and Worse Functional Impairment in the Progression of Dementia: The Cache County Dementia Progression Study1

Sanders, Chelseaa | Behrens, Stephaniea | Schwartz, Sarahb | Wengreen, Heidic | Corcoran, Chris D.b; d | Lyketsos, Constantine G.e | Tschanz, JoAnn T.a; d;
Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2016; 52(1):33-42,     http://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad150528   http://dx.doi.org:/10.3233/JAD-150528

Nutritional status may be a modifiable factor in the progression of dementia. We examined the association of nutritional status and rate of cognitive and functional decline in a U.S. population-based sample. Study design was an observational longitudinal study with annual follow-ups up to 6 years of 292 persons with dementia (72% Alzheimer’s disease, 56% female) in Cache County, UT using the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE), Clinical Dementia Rating Sum of Boxes (CDR-sb), and modified Mini Nutritional Assessment (mMNA). mMNA scores declined by approximately 0.50 points/year, suggesting increasing risk for malnutrition. Lower mMNA score predicted faster rate of decline on the MMSE at earlier follow-up times, but slower decline at later follow-up times, whereas higher mMNA scores had the opposite pattern (mMNA by time β= 0.22, p = 0.017; mMNA by time2 β= –0.04, p = 0.04). Lower mMNA score was associated with greater impairment on the CDR-sb over the course of dementia (β= 0.35, p <  0.001). Assessment of malnutrition may be useful in predicting rates of progression in dementia and may provide a target for clinical intervention.


Shared Genetic Risk Factors for Late-Life Depression and Alzheimer’s Disease

Ye, Qing | Bai, Feng* | Zhang, Zhijun
Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2016; 52(1): 1-15.                                      http://dx.doi.org:/10.3233/JAD-151129

Background: Considerable evidence has been reported for the comorbidity between late-life depression (LLD) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD), both of which are very common in the general elderly population and represent a large burden on the health of the elderly. The pathophysiological mechanisms underlying the link between LLD and AD are poorly understood. Because both LLD and AD can be heritable and are influenced by multiple risk genes, shared genetic risk factors between LLD and AD may exist. Objective: The objective is to review the existing evidence for genetic risk factors that are common to LLD and AD and to outline the biological substrates proposed to mediate this association. Methods: A literature review was performed. Results: Genetic polymorphisms of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, apolipoprotein E, interleukin 1-beta, and methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase have been demonstrated to confer increased risk to both LLD and AD by studies examining either LLD or AD patients. These results contribute to the understanding of pathophysiological mechanisms that are common to both of these disorders, including deficits in nerve growth factors, inflammatory changes, and dysregulation mechanisms involving lipoprotein and folate. Other conflicting results have also been reviewed, and few studies have investigated the effects of the described polymorphisms on both LLD and AD. Conclusion: The findings suggest that common genetic pathways may underlie LLD and AD comorbidity. Studies to evaluate the genetic relationship between LLD and AD may provide insights into the molecular mechanisms that trigger disease progression as the population ages.


Association of Vitamin B12, Folate, and Sulfur Amino Acids With Brain Magnetic Resonance Imaging Measures in Older Adults: A Longitudinal Population-Based Study

B Hooshmand, F Mangialasche, G Kalpouzos…, et al.
AMA Psychiatry. Published online April 27, 2016.    http://dx.doi.org:/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.0274

Importance  Vitamin B12, folate, and sulfur amino acids may be modifiable risk factors for structural brain changes that precede clinical dementia.

Objective  To investigate the association of circulating levels of vitamin B12, red blood cell folate, and sulfur amino acids with the rate of total brain volume loss and the change in white matter hyperintensity volume as measured by fluid-attenuated inversion recovery in older adults.

Design, Setting, and Participants  The magnetic resonance imaging subsample of the Swedish National Study on Aging and Care in Kungsholmen, a population-based longitudinal study in Stockholm, Sweden, was conducted in 501 participants aged 60 years or older who were free of dementia at baseline. A total of 299 participants underwent repeated structural brain magnetic resonance imaging scans from September 17, 2001, to December 17, 2009.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The rate of brain tissue volume loss and the progression of total white matter hyperintensity volume.

Results  In the multi-adjusted linear mixed models, among 501 participants (300 women [59.9%]; mean [SD] age, 70.9 [9.1] years), higher baseline vitamin B12 and holotranscobalamin levels were associated with a decreased rate of total brain volume loss during the study period: for each increase of 1 SD, β (SE) was 0.048 (0.013) for vitamin B12 (P < .001) and 0.040 (0.013) for holotranscobalamin (P = .002). Increased total homocysteine levels were associated with faster rates of total brain volume loss in the whole sample (β [SE] per 1-SD increase, –0.035 [0.015]; P = .02) and with the progression of white matter hyperintensity among participants with systolic blood pressure greater than 140 mm Hg (β [SE] per 1-SD increase, 0.000019 [0.00001]; P = .047). No longitudinal associations were found for red blood cell folate and other sulfur amino acids.

Conclusions and Relevance  This study suggests that both vitamin B12 and total homocysteine concentrations may be related to accelerated aging of the brain. Randomized clinical trials are needed to determine the importance of vitamin B12supplementation on slowing brain aging in older adults.



Notes from Kurzweill

This vitamin stops the aging process in organs, say Swiss researchers

A potential breakthrough for regenerative medicine, pending further studies


Improved muscle stem cell numbers and muscle function in NR-treated aged mice: Newly regenerated muscle fibers 7 days after muscle damage in aged mice (left: control group; right: fed NR). (Scale bar = 50 μm). (credit: Hongbo Zhang et al./Science) http://www.kurzweilai.net/images/improved-muscle-fibers.png

EPFL researchers have restored the ability of mice organs to regenerate and extend life by simply administering nicotinamide riboside (NR) to them.

NR has been shown in previous studies to be effective in boosting metabolism and treating a number of degenerative diseases. Now, an article by PhD student Hongbo Zhang published in Science also describes the restorative effects of NR on the functioning of stem cells for regenerating organs.

As in all mammals, as mice age, the regenerative capacity of certain organs (such as the liver and kidneys) and muscles (including the heart) diminishes. Their ability to repair them following an injury is also affected. This leads to many of the disorders typical of aging.

Mitochondria —> stem cells —> organs

To understand how the regeneration process deteriorates with age, Zhang teamed up with colleagues from ETH Zurich, the University of Zurich, and universities in Canada and Brazil. By using several biomarkers, they were able to identify the molecular chain that regulates how mitochondria — the “powerhouse” of the cell — function and how they change with age. “We were able to show for the first time that their ability to function properly was important for stem cells,” said Auwerx.

Under normal conditions, these stem cells, reacting to signals sent by the body, regenerate damaged organs by producing new specific cells. At least in young bodies. “We demonstrated that fatigue in stem cells was one of the main causes of poor regeneration or even degeneration in certain tissues or organs,” said Zhang.

How to revitalize stem cells

Which is why the researchers wanted to “revitalize” stem cells in the muscles of elderly mice. And they did so by precisely targeting the molecules that help the mitochondria to function properly. “We gave nicotinamide riboside to 2-year-old mice, which is an advanced age for them,” said Zhang.

“This substance, which is close to vitamin B3, is a precursor of NAD+, a molecule that plays a key role in mitochondrial activity. And our results are extremely promising: muscular regeneration is much better in mice that received NR, and they lived longer than the mice that didn’t get it.”

Parallel studies have revealed a comparable effect on stem cells of the brain and skin. “This work could have very important implications in the field of regenerative medicine,” said Auwerx. This work on the aging process also has potential for treating diseases that can affect — and be fatal — in young people, like muscular dystrophy (myopathy).

So far, no negative side effects have been observed following the use of NR, even at high doses. But while it appears to boost the functioning of all cells, it could include pathological ones, so further in-depth studies are required.

Abstract of NAD+ repletion improves mitochondrial and stem cell function and enhances life span in mice

Adult stem cells (SCs) are essential for tissue maintenance and regeneration yet are susceptible to senescence during aging. We demonstrate the importance of the amount of the oxidized form of cellular nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) and its impact on mitochondrial activity as a pivotal switch to modulate muscle SC (MuSC) senescence. Treatment with the NAD+ precursor nicotinamide riboside (NR) induced the mitochondrial unfolded protein response (UPRmt) and synthesis of prohibitin proteins, and this rejuvenated MuSCs in aged mice. NR also prevented MuSC senescence in the Mdx mouse model of muscular dystrophy. We furthermore demonstrate that NR delays senescence of neural SCs (NSCs) and melanocyte SCs (McSCs), and increased mouse lifespan. Strategies that conserve cellular NAD+ may reprogram dysfunctional SCs and improve lifespan in mammals.


Hongbo Zhang, Dongryeol Ryu, Yibo Wu, Karim Gariani, Xu Wang, Peiling Luan, Davide D’amico, Eduardo R. Ropelle, Matthias P. Lutolf, Ruedi Aebersold, Kristina Schoonjans, Keir J. Menzies, Johan Auwerx. NAD repletion improves mitochondrial and stem cell function and enhances lifespan in mice. Science, 2016 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2693


Enhancer–promoter interactions are encoded by complex genomic signatures on looping chromatin

Sean WhalenRebecca M Truty & Katherine S Pollard
Nature Genetics 2016; 48:488–496

Discriminating the gene target of a distal regulatory element from other nearby transcribed genes is a challenging problem with the potential to illuminate the causal underpinnings of complex diseases. We present TargetFinder, a computational method that reconstructs regulatory landscapes from diverse features along the genome. The resulting models accurately predict individual enhancer–promoter interactions across multiple cell lines with a false discovery rate up to 15 times smaller than that obtained using the closest gene. By evaluating the genomic features driving this accuracy, we uncover interactions between structural proteins, transcription factors, epigenetic modifications, and transcription that together distinguish interacting from non-interacting enhancer–promoter pairs. Most of this signature is not proximal to the enhancers and promoters but instead decorates the looping DNA. We conclude that complex but consistent combinations of marks on the one-dimensional genome encode the three-dimensional structure of fine-scale regulatory interactions.

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Genomic relationship between autism and bipolar disorder

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Autism and Bipolar Disorder Share Common Genetic Roots


New study describes genetic commonalities among various psychiatric disorders. [Jonathan Bailey, NHGRI]

Complex neurological disorders, such as autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder (BD) are the likely result of the influence of both common and rare susceptibility genes. While common variation has been widely studied over the past several years, rare variant elucidation has only recently become possible through the use next-generation sequencing techniques.

Now, research from scientists at the University of Iowa (UI) Carver College of Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and other institutions suggests that there may be genetic susceptibility across major psychiatric disorders—this being the first study to suggest a genetic overlap between bipolar disorder and autism.

Research into BDs is critical due to its high prevalence—affecting between 1% and 3% of the population—and debilitating nature. Although many patients are helped by treatments such as lithium, about one-third of people affected by BD are intractable to current therapies. Although it’s long been known that BD is highly heritable, identifying specific genetic variants that contribute to the illness has proven difficult.

Genomic studies in the past decade have helped uncover several so-called common variations, but none of these variations alone has shown a large effect. However, massively parallel sequencing technology has now provided investigators an opportunity to find rare variations that might individually have a large effect.

“Common variations are thought to each individually have only a tiny impact—for example, increasing a person’s likelihood of getting a disease by 10–20%,” explained senior study author James Potash, M.D., professor and head of the department of psychiatry at UI. “The hope with rare variations is that they individually have a much bigger impact, like doubling or quadrupling risk for disease.”

For this study, the scientists devised a two-tiered strategy, combining a case–control approach with family-based exome sequencing to maximize their chances of identifying rare variants that contribute to BD. Their thinking was that if a genetic variant is found more often in the group of individuals who have the disease compared to a control group of people without the condition, then the gene variation might be associated with increasing susceptibility to the disease.

Moreover, comparing exome sequences of related individuals affected and unaffected by BD can distinguish variants that “travel with” or segregate with the disease. This approach has long been used to identify gene variants or mutations that are passed from parents to children that cause disease.

The findings from this study were published recently in JAMA Psychiatry in an article entitled “Exome Sequencing of Familial Bipolar Disorder.”

The researchers were able to identify, from the family study, 84 rare variants (in 82 genes) that segregated with BD and that were also predicted to be damaging to the proteins encoded by those genes. Subsequently, the research team tested the likelihood that these rare variations might be involved in causing BD by looking for them in three large case–control datasets that included genome sequences from a total of 3541 individuals with BD and 4774 control patients.

Interestingly, despite the large size of the combined datasets, the approach was not powerful enough to identify any of the individual rare variants as definitively associated with BD. However, 19 genes stood out as being overrepresented in BD cases compared to controls.

“The results were not strong enough for us to say ‘we have pinpointed the genetic culprits.’ But it was strong enough for us to remain interested in these genes as potential contributors to bipolar disorder,” noted Dr. Potash.

Yet, when the team considered the 19 genes as a group, they surmised that several were also members of groups of genes that had been implicated in autism and schizophrenia.

“It turned out that the schizophrenia and the autism genes were all more represented among our 82 genes than you would expect by chance,” Dr. Potash remarked. “And when we looked at our whittled down group of 19 genes, the autism genes continued to be unexpectedly prominent among them.

“With studies like this we are finally, after decades of effort, making real progress in nailing down groups of genes and variations in them that play a role in causing bipolar disorder,” Dr. Potash added. “The mechanistic insights we gain from identifying associated genes we hope will point us in the direction of developing new treatments to make a difference for the many people affected by this illness.

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Neuroscience impact of synaptic pruning discovery

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Synaptic Pruning Discovery May Lead to New Therapies for Neuro Disorders

GEN 3 May, 2016    http://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/synaptic-pruning-discovery-may-lead-to-new-therapies-for-neuro-disorders/81252680/

Source: NIH      http://www.genengnews.com/Media/images/GENHighlight/thumb_May3_2016_NIH_CRANPuzzleBrain_AdolescentBrain2247219834.jpg


A research team led by scientists at SUNY Downstate Medical Center has identified a brain receptor that appears to initiate adolescent synaptic pruning, a process believed necessary for learning, but one that appears to go awry in both autism and schizophrenia.

Sheryl Smith, Ph.D., professor of physiology and pharmacology at SUNY Downstate, explained that “Memories are formed at structures in the brain known as dendritic spines that communicate with other brain cells through synapses. The number of brain connections decreases by half after puberty, a finding shown in many brain areas and for many species, including humans and rodents.”

This process is referred to as adolescent “synaptic pruning” and is thought to be important for normal learning in adulthood. Synaptic pruning is believed to remove unnecessary synaptic connections to make room for relevant new memories, but because it is disrupted in diseases such as autism and schizophrenia, there has recently been widespread interest in the subject.

“Our report is the first to identify the process which initiates synaptic pruning at puberty. Previous studies have shown that scavenging by the immune system cleans up the debris from these pruned connections, likely the final step in the pruning process,” added Dr. Smith. “Working with a mouse model we have shown that, at puberty, there is an increase in inhibitory GABA [gamma-aminobutyric acid] receptors, which are targets for brain chemicals that quiet down nerve cells. We now report that these GABA receptors trigger synaptic pruning at puberty in the mouse hippocampus, a brain area involved in learning and memory.”

The study (“Synaptic Pruning in the Female Hippocampus Is Triggered at Puberty by Extrasynaptic GABAA Receptors on Dendritic Spines”) is published online in eLife.

Dr. Smith noted that by reducing brain activity, these GABA receptors also reduce levels of a protein in the dendritic spine, kalirin-7, which stabilizes the scaffolding in the spine to maintain its structure. Mice that do not have these receptors maintain the same high level of brain connections throughout adolescence.

Dr. Smith pointed out that the mice with too many brain connections, which do not undergo synaptic pruning, are able to learn spatial locations, but are unable to relearn new locations after the initial learning, suggesting that too many brain connections may limit learning potential.

These findings may suggest new treatments targeting GABA receptors for “normalizing” synaptic pruning in diseases such as autism and schizophrenia, where synaptic pruning is abnormal. Research has suggested that children with autism may have an over-abundance of synapses in some parts of the brain. Other research suggests that prefrontal brain areas in persons with schizophrenia have fewer neural connections than the brains of those who do not have the condition.


Synaptic pruning in the female hippocampus is triggered at puberty by extrasynaptic GABAAreceptors on dendritic spines

Adolescent synaptic pruning is thought to enable optimal cognition because it is disrupted in certain neuropathologies, yet the initiator of this process is unknown. One factor not yet considered is the α4βδ GABAA receptor (GABAR), an extrasynaptic inhibitory receptor which first emerges on dendritic spines at puberty in female mice. Here we show that α4βδ GABARs trigger adolescent pruning. Spine density of CA1 hippocampal pyramidal cells decreased by half post-pubertally in female wild-type but not α4 KO mice. This effect was associated with decreased expression of kalirin-7 (Kal7), a spine protein which controls actin cytoskeleton remodeling. Kal7 decreased at puberty as a result of reduced NMDAR activation due to α4βδ-mediated inhibition. In the absence of this inhibition, Kal7 expression was unchanged at puberty. In the unpruned condition, spatial re-learning was impaired. These data suggest that pubertal pruning requires α4βδ GABARs. In their absence, pruning is prevented and cognition is not optimal.

Searches Related to Synaptic Pruning in the Female Hippocampus Is Triggered at Puberty by Extrasynaptic GABAA Receptors on Dendritic Spines

Optogenetics helps understand what causes anxiety and depression

Researchers at Ruhr University Bochum (RUB; Germany) coupled nerve cell receptors to light-sensitive retinal pigments to understand how the serotonin neurotransmitter works and, therefore, learn what causes anxiety anddepression.

Related: Optogenetics could lead to better understanding of anxiety, depression

Prof. Dr. Olivia Masseck, who led the work, researches the causes of anxiety and depression. For more than 60 years, researchers have been hypothesising that the diseases are caused by, among other factors, changes to the level of serotonin. But understanding how the serotonin system works is quite difficult, says Masseck, who became junior professor for Super-Resolution Fluorescence Microscopy at RUB in April 2016.

With a method called optogenetics, Olivia Masseck (right) creates nerve cell receptors that are controllable with light. (Copyright: RUB, Damian Gorczany)

The number of receptors for serotonin in the brain amounts to 14, occurring in different cell types. Consequently, determining the functions that different receptors fulfill in the individual cell types is a complicated task. If, however, the proteins are coupled to light-sensitive pigments, they can be switched on and off with light of a specific color at high spatial and temporal precision. Masseck used this method, known as optogenetics, to characterize, for example, the properties of different light-sensitive proteins and identified the ones that are best suited as optogenetic tools. She has analyzed several light-sensitive varieties of the serotonin receptors 5-HT1A and 5-HT2C in great detail. Together with her collaborators, she has demonstrated in several studies that both receptors can control the anxiety behavior of mice.

To investigate the serotonin system more closely, Masseck and her research team is currently developing a sensor that is going to indicate the neurotransmitter in real time. One potential approach involves the integration of a modified form of a green fluorescent protein into a serotonin receptor.

In a brain slice, Olivia Masseck measures the activity of nerve cells in which she switches on their receptors using light stimulation. Via the pipette a red dye diffuses into the cell, rendering them visible in the brain slice. (Copyright: RUB, Damian Gorczany)

This protein produces green light only if it is embedded in a specific spatial structure. If a serotonin molecule binds to a receptor, the receptor changes its three-dimensional conformation. The objective is to integrate the fluorescent protein in the receptor so that its spatial structure changes together with that of the receptor when it binds a serotonin molecule, in such a way that the protein begins to glow.

Full details of the work appear in Rubin Science Magazine; for more information, please visithttp://rubin.rub.de/en/controlling-nerve-cells-light.

Controlling nerve cells with light   

New optogenetic tools   by Julia Weiler
Anxiety and depression are two of the most frequently occurring mental disorders worldwide. Light-activated nerve cells may indicate how they are formed.

Statistically, every fifth individual suffers from depression or anxiety in the course of his or her life. The mechanisms that trigger these disorders are not yet fully understood, despite the fact that researchers have been studying the hypothesis that one of the underlying cause are changes to the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin for 60 years.

“Unfortunately, it is very difficult to understand how the serotonin system works,” says Prof Dr Olivia Masseck, who is junior professor for Super-Resolution Fluorescence Microscopy since the end of April 2016. She  intends to fathom the mysteries of the complex system. The number of receptors for the neurotransmitter in the brain amounts to 14 in total, and they occur in different cell types. Consequently, determining the functions that different receptors fulfil in the individual cell types is a complicated task.

In order to fathom the purpose of such receptors, researchers used to observe which functions were inhibited after they had been activated or blocked with the aid of pharmaceutical drugs. However, many substances affect not just one receptor, but several at the same time. Moreover, researchers cannot tell receptors in the individual cell types apart when pharmaceutical drugs have been applied. “It had been impossible to study serotonin signalling pathways at high spatial and temporal resolution,” adds Masseck. Until the development of optogenetics.

“This method has revolutionised neuroscience,” says Olivia Masseck, whose collaborator Prof Dr Stefan Herlitze was one of the pioneers in this field. Optogenetics allows precise control over the activity of specific nerve cells or receptors with light. What sounds like science fiction, is routine at RUB’s Neuroscience Research Department. Masseck: “Until now, we had been passive observers, and monitoring cell activity was all we could do; now, we are able to manipulate it precisely.”

The researcher from Bochum is mainly interested in the 5-HT1A and 5-HT1B receptors, the so-called autoreceptors of the serotonin system. They occur in serotonin-producing cells, where they regulate the amount of released neurotransmitters; that means they determine the serotonin level in the brain.

Normally, 5-HT1A and 5-HT1B are activated when a serotonin molecule bonds to the receptor. The docking triggers a chain reaction in the cell. The effects of this signalling cascade include a reduced activity of the neural cell, which releases less neurotransmitter.

By modifying certain brain cells in the brains of mice, Olivia Masseck successfully activated the 5-HT1Areceptor without the aid of serotonin. She combined it with a visual pigment – so-called opsin. More specifically, she utilised blue or red visual pigments from the cones responsible for colour vision. This is how she generated a serotonin receptor that she could switch on with red or blue light. This method enables the RUB researcher to identify the role the 5-HT1A receptor plays in anxiety and depression.

To this end, she delivered the combined protein made up of light-sensitive opsin and serotonin receptor into the brain of mice using a virus that had been rendered harmless. Like a shuttle, it transports genetic information which contains the blueprint for the combined protein. Once injected into brain tissue, the virus implants the gene for the light-activated receptor in specific nerve cells. There, it is read, and the light-activated receptor is incorporated into the cell membrane.

The researcher was now able to switch the receptors on and off in a living mouse using light. She analysed in what way this manipulation affected the animals’ behaviour in an anxiety test, i.e. Open Field Test. For the purpose of the experiment, she placed individual mice in a large, empty Plexiglas box.

Under normal circumstances, the animals avoid the centre of the brightly-lit box, because it doesn’t offer any cover. Most of the time, they stay close to the walls. When Olivia Masseck switched on the 5-HT1Areceptor using light, the behaviour of the mice changed. They were less anxious and spent more time in the middle of the Plexiglas box.

These results were confirmed in a further test. Olivia Masseck stopped the time it took the mice to eat a food pellet in the middle of a large Plexiglas box. Normal animals waited between six and seven minutes before they ventured into the centre to feed. However, mice whose serotonin receptor was switched on started to feed after one or two minutes. “This is important evidence indicating that the 5-HT1A receptor signalling pathway in the serotonin system is linked to anxiety,” concludes Masseck.

In the next step, the researcher intends to find out in what way depressive behaviour is affected by the activation of the 5-HT1A receptor. “If the animals are exposed to chronic stress, they develop symptoms similar to those in humans with depression,” describes Masseck. “They might, for example, withdraw from social interactions.”

However, just like in humans, this applies to only a certain percentage of the mice. “Not every individual who suffers from chronic stress or experiences negative situations develops depression,” points out Masseck. What happens in the serotonin system of animals that are susceptible to depression, as opposed to that of animals that do not present any depressive symptoms? This is what the researcher intends to find out by deploying the optogenetic methods described above; in addition, she is currently developing a custom-built serotonin sensor.

Olivia Masseck’s assumption is that her findings regarding the neuronal circuits and molecular mechanisms of anxiety and depression are applicable to humans. Mice have similar cell functions, and their nervous system has a similar structure. The neuroscientist expects that optogenetics will one day be deployed in human applications.

“Genetic manipulation of cells for the purpose of controlling them with light might sound like science fiction,” she says, “but I am convinced that optogenetics will be used in human applications in the next decades.” It could, for example, be utilised for deep brain stimulation in Parkinson’s patients, because it facilitates precise activation of the required signalling pathways, with fewer side effects, at that.

“In the first step, optogenetics will be used in therapy of retinal diseases,” believes Olivia Masseck. Researchers are currently conducting experiments aiming at restoring the visual function in blind mice.

Olivia Masseck is aware that her research raises ethical questions. “We have to discuss in which applications we want or don’t want to use these techniques,” she says. Her research demonstrates how easily the lines between science-fiction films and scientific research can blur.

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Schizophrenia, broken-links

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Runs in the Family

 New findings about schizophrenia rekindle old questions about genes and identity.
BY Annals of Science MARCH 28, 2016 ISSUE      http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/03/28/the-genetics-of-schizophrenia


The author and his father have seen several relatives succumb to mental illness.CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY DAYANITA SINGH FOR THE NEW YORKER

In the winter of 2012, I travelled from New Delhi, where I grew up, to Calcutta to visit my cousin Moni. My father accompanied me as a guide and companion, but he was a sullen and brooding presence, lost in a private anguish. He is the youngest of five brothers, and Moni is his firstborn nephew—the eldest brother’s son. Since 2004, Moni, now fifty-two, has been confined to an institution for the mentally ill (a “lunatic home,” as my father calls it), with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He is kept awash in antipsychotics and sedatives, and an attendant watches, bathes, and feeds him through the day.

My father has never accepted Moni’s diagnosis. Over the years, he has waged a lonely campaign against the psychiatrists charged with his nephew’s care, hoping to convince them that their diagnosis was a colossal error, or that Moni’s broken psyche would somehow mend itself. He has visited the institution in Calcutta twice—once without warning, hoping to see a transformed Moni, living a secretly normal life behind the barred gates. But there was more than just avuncular love at stake for him in these visits. Moni is not the only member of the family with mental illness. Two of my father’s four brothers suffered from various unravellings of the mind. Madness has been among the Mukherjees for generations, and at least part of my father’s reluctance to accept Moni’s diagnosis lies in a grim suspicion that something of the illness may be buried, like toxic waste, in himself.

Rajesh, my father’s third-born brother, had once been the most promising of the Mukherjee boys—the nimblest, the most charismatic, the most admired. But in the summer of 1946, at the age of twenty-two, he began to behave oddly, as if a wire had been tripped in his brain. The most obvious change in his personality was a volatility: good news triggered uncontained outbursts of joy; bad news plunged him into inconsolable desolation. By that winter, the sine curve of Rajesh’s psyche had tightened in its frequency and gained in its amplitude. My father recalls an altered brother: fearful at times, reckless at others, descending and ascending steep slopes of mood, irritable one morning and overjoyed the next. When Rajesh received news of a successful performance on his college exams, he vanished, elated, on a two-night excursion, supposedly “exercising” at a wrestling camp. He was feverish and hallucinating when he returned, and died of pneumonia soon afterward. Only years later, in medical school, did I realize that Rajesh was likely in the throes of an acute manic phase. His mental breakdown was the result of a near-textbook case of bipolar disorder.

Jagu, the fourth-born of my father’s siblings, came to live with us in Delhi in 1975, when I was five years old and he was forty-five. His mind, too, was failing. Tall and rail thin, with a slightly feral look in his eyes and a shock of matted, overgrown hair, he resembled a Bengali Jim Morrison. Unlike Rajesh, whose illness had surfaced in his twenties, Jagu had been troubled from his adolescence. Socially awkward, withdrawn from everyone except my grandmother, he was unable to hold a job or live by himself. By 1975, he had visions, phantasms, and voices in his head that told him what to do. He was still capable of extraordinary bursts of tenderness—when I accidentally smashed a beloved Venetian vase at home, he hid me in his bedclothes and informed my mother that he had “mounds of cash” stashed away, enough to buy “a thousand” replacement vases. But this episode was symptomatic: even his love for me extended the fabric of his psychosis and confabulation.

Unlike Rajesh, Jagu was formally diagnosed. In the late nineteen-seventies, a physician in Delhi examined him and determined that he had schizophrenia. But no medicines were prescribed. Instead, Jagu continued to live at home, half hidden away in my grandmother’s room. (As in many families in India, my grandmother lived with us.) For nearly a decade, she and my father maintained a fragile truce, with Jagu living under her care, eating meals in her room and wearing clothes that she stitched for him. At night, when Jagu was consumed by his fears and fantasies, she put him to bed like a child, with her hand on his forehead. She was his nurse, his housekeeper, his only friend, and, more important, his public defender. When my grandmother died, in 1985, Jagu joined a religious sect in Delhi and disappeared, until his death, a dozen years later.


at schizophrenia runs in families was evident even to the person who first defined the illness. In 1911, Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss-German psychiatrist, published a book describing a series of cases of men and women, typically in their teens and early twenties, whose thoughts had begun to tangle and degenerate. “In this malady, the associations lose their continuity,” Bleuler wrote. “The threads between thoughts are torn.” Psychotic visions and paranoid thoughts flashed out of nowhere. Some patients “feel themselves weak, their spirit escapes, they will never survive the day. There is a growth in their heads. Their bones have turned liquid; their hearts have turned into stone. . . . The patient’s wife must not use eggs in cooking, otherwise he will grow feathers.” His patients were often trapped between flickering emotional states, unable to choose between two radically opposed visions, Bleuler noted. “You devil, you angel, you devil, you angel,” one woman said to her lover.

Bleuler tried to find an explanation for the mysterious symptoms, but there was only one seemingly common element: schizophrenic patients tended to have first-degree relatives who were also schizophrenic. He had no tools to understand the mechanism behind the heredity. The word “gene” had been coined just two years before Bleuler published his book. The notion that a mental illness could be carried across generations by unitary, indivisible factors—corpuscles of information threading through families—would have struck most of Bleuler’s contemporaries as mad in its own right. Still, Bleuler was astonishingly prescient about the complex nature of inheritance. “If one is looking for ‘theheredity,’ one can nearly always find it,” he wrote. “We will not be able to do anything about it even later on, unless the single factor of heredity can be broken down into many hereditary factors along specific lines.”

In the nineteen-sixties, Bleuler’s hunch was confirmed by twin studies. Psychiatrists determined that if an identical twin was schizophrenic the other twin had a forty-to-fifty-per-cent chance of developing the disease—fiftyfold higher than the risk in the general population. By the early two-thousands, large population studies had revealed a strong genetic link between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Some of the families described in these studies had a crisscrossing history that was achingly similar to my own: one sibling affected with schizophrenia, another with bipolar disorder, and a nephew or niece also schizophrenic.

“The twin studies clarified two important features of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” Jeffrey Lieberman, a Columbia University psychiatrist who has studied schizophrenia for thirty years, told me. “First, it was clear that there wasn’t a single gene, but dozens of genes involved in causing schizophrenia—each perhaps exerting a small effect. And, second, even if you inherited the entire set of risk genes, as identical twins do, you still might not develop the disease. Obviously, there were other triggers or instigators involved in releasing the illness.” But while these studies established that schizophrenia had a genetic basis, they revealed nothing about the nature of the genes involved. “For doctors, patients, and families in the schizophrenia community, genetics became the ultimate mystery,” Lieberman said. “If we knew the identity of the genes, we would find the causes, and if we found the causes we could find medicines.”

In 2006, an international consortium of psychiatric geneticists launched a genomic survey of schizophrenia, hoping to advance the search for the implicated genes. With 3,322 patients and 3,587 controls, this was one of the largest and most rigorous such studies in the history of the disease. Researchers scanned through the nearly seven thousand genomes to find variations in gene segments that were correlated with schizophrenia. This strategy, termed an “association study,” does not pinpoint a gene, but it provides a general location where a disease-linked gene may be found, like a treasure map with a large “X” scratched in a corner of the genome.

The results, reported in 2009 (and updated in 2014) in the journal Nature, were a dispiriting validation of Bleuler’s hunch about multiple hereditary factors: more than a hundred independent segments of the genome were associated with schizophrenia. “There are lots of small, common genetic effects, scattered across the genome,” one researcher said. “There are many different biological processes involved.” Some of the putative culprits made biological sense—if dimly. There were genes linked to transmitters that relay messages between neurons, and genes for molecular channels that move electrical signals up and down nerve cells. But by far the most surprising association involved a gene segment on chromosome 6. This region of the genome—termed the MHC region—carries hundreds of genes typically associated with the immune system.

“The MHC-segment finding was so strange and striking that you had to sit up and take notice,” Lieberman told me. “Here was the most definitive evidence that something in the immune system might have something to do with schizophrenia. There had been hints about an immunological association before, but this was impossible to argue with. It raised an endlessly fascinating question: what was the link between immune-response genes and schizophrenia?”

The Rogue Immune Cells That Wreck the Brain

Beth Stevens thinks she has solved a mystery behind brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.

by Adam Piore   April 4, 2016            https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601137/the-rogue-immune-cells-that-wreck-the-brain/

In the first years of her career in brain research, Beth Stevens thought of microglia with annoyance if she thought of them at all. When she gazed into a microscope and saw these ubiquitous cells with their spidery tentacles, she did what most neuroscientists had been doing for generations: she looked right past them and focused on the rest of the brain tissue, just as you might look through specks of dirt on a windshield.

“What are they doing there?” she thought. “They’re in the way.’”

Stevens never would have guessed that just a few years later, she would be running a laboratory at Harvard and Boston’s Children’s Hospital devoted to the study of these obscure little clumps. Or that she would be arguing in the world’s top scientific journals that microglia might hold the key to understanding not just normal brain development but also what causes Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, autism, schizophrenia, and other intractable brain disorders.

Microglia are part of a larger class of cells—known collectively as glia—that carry out an array of functions in the brain, guiding its development and serving as its immune system by gobbling up diseased or damaged cells and carting away debris. Along with her frequent collaborator and mentor, Stanford biologist Ben Barres, and a growing cadre of other scientists, Stevens, 45, is showing that these long-overlooked cells are more than mere support workers for the neurons they surround. Her work has raised a provocative suggestion: that brain disorders could somehow be triggered by our own bodily defenses gone bad.

A type of glial cell known as an oligodendrocyte

In one groundbreaking paper, in January, Stevens and researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard showed that aberrant microglia might play a role in schizophrenia—causing or at least contributing to the massive cell loss that can leave people with devastating cognitive defects. Crucially, the researchers pointed to a chemical pathway that might be targeted to slow or stop the disease. Last week, Stevens and other researchers published a similar finding for Alzheimer’s.

This might be just the beginning. Stevens is also exploring the connection between these tiny structures and other neurological diseases—work that earned her a $625,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant last September.

All of this raises intriguing questions. Is it possible that many common brain disorders, despite their wide-ranging symptoms, are caused or at least worsened by the same culprit, a component of the immune system? If so, could many of these disorders be treated in a similar way—by stopping these rogue cells?

Nature. 2016 Feb 11;530(7589):177-83. http://dx.doi.org:/10.1038/nature16549. Epub 2016 Jan 27.   Schizophrenia risk from complex variation of complement component 4.

Schizophrenia is a heritable brain illness with unknown pathogenic mechanisms. Schizophrenia’s strongest genetic association at a population level involves variation in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) locus, but the genes and molecular mechanisms accounting for this have been challenging to identify. Here we show that this association arises in part from many structurally diverse alleles of the complement component 4 (C4) genes. We found that these alleles generated widely varying levels of C4A and C4B expression in the brain, with each common C4 allele associating with schizophrenia in proportion to its tendency to generate greater expression of C4A. Human C4 protein localized to neuronal synapses, dendrites, axons, and cell bodies. In mice, C4 mediated synapse elimination during postnatal development. These results implicate excessive complement activity in the development of schizophrenia and may help explain the reduced numbers of synapses in the brains of individuals with schizophrenia.


Science  31 Mar 2016;        http://dx.doi.org:/10.1126/science.aad8373      Complement and microglia mediate early synapse loss in Alzheimer mouse models.
Soyon Hong1Victoria F. Beja-Glasser1,*Bianca M. Nfonoyim1,*,…., Ben A. Barres6Cynthia A. Lemere,2Dennis J. Selkoe2,7Beth Stevens1,8,

 Synapse loss in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) correlates with cognitive decline. Involvement of microglia and complement in AD has been attributed to neuroinflammation, prominent late in disease. Here we show in mouse models that complement and microglia mediate synaptic loss early in AD. C1q, the initiating protein of the classical complement cascade, is increased and associated with synapses before overt plaque deposition. Inhibition of C1q, C3 or the microglial complement receptor CR3, reduces the number of phagocytic microglia as well as the extent of early synapse loss. C1q is necessary for the toxic effects of soluble β-amyloid (Aβ) oligomers on synapses and hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP). Finally, microglia in adult brains engulf synaptic material in a CR3-dependent process when exposed to soluble Aβ oligomers. Together, these findings suggest that the complement-dependent pathway and microglia that prune excess synapses in development are inappropriately activated and mediate synapse loss in AD.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) implicate microglia and complement-related pathways in AD (1). Previous research has demonstrated both beneficial and detrimental roles of complement and microglia in plaque-related neuropathology (2, 3); however, their roles in synapse loss, a major pathological correlate of cognitive decline in AD (4), remain to be identified. Emerging research implicates microglia and immune-related mechanisms in brain wiring in the healthy brain (1). During development, C1q and C3 localize to synapses and mediate synapse elimination by phagocytic microglia (57). We hypothesized that this normal developmental synaptic pruning pathway is activated early in the AD brain and mediates synapse loss.


Complex machinery

It’s not surprising that scientists for years have ignored microglia and other glial cells in favor of neurons. Neurons that fire together allow us to think, breathe, and move. We see, hear, and feel using neurons, and we form memories and associations when the connections between different neurons strengthen at the junctions between them, known as synapses. Many neuroscientists argue that neurons create our very consciousness.

Glia, on the other hand, have always been considered less important and interesting. They have pedestrian duties such as supplying nutrients and oxygen to neurons, as well as mopping up stray chemicals and carting away the garbage.

Scientists have known about glia for some time. In the 1800s, the pathologist Rudolf Virchow noted the presence of small round cells packing the spaces between neurons and named them “nervenkitt” or “neuroglia,” which can be translated as nerve putty or glue. One variety of these cells, known as astrocytes, was defined in 1893. And then in the 1920s, the Spanish scientist Pio del Río Hortega developed novel ways of staining cells taken from the brain. This led him to identify and name two more types of glial cells, including microglia, which are far smaller than the others and are characterized by their spidery shape and multiple branches. It is only when the brain is damaged in adulthood, he suggested, that microglia spring to life—rushing to the injury, where it was thought they helped clean up the area by eating damaged and dead cells. Astrocytes often appeared on the scene as well; it was thought that they created scar tissue.

This emergency convergence of microglia and astrocytes was dubbed “gliosis,” and by the time Ben Barres entered medical school in the late 1970s, it was well established as a hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases, infection, and a wide array of other medical conditions. But no one seemed to understand why it occurred. That intrigued Barres, then a neurologist in training, who saw it every time he looked under a microscope at neural tissue in distress. “It was just really fascinating,” he says. “The great mystery was: what is the point of this gliosis? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it driving the disease process, or is it trying to repair the injured brain?”


Barres began looking for the answer. He learned how to grow glial cells in a dish and apply a new recording technique to them. He could measure their electrical qualities, which determine the biochemical signaling that all brain cells use to communicate and coördinate activity.

“From the second I started recording the glial cells, I thought ‘Oh, my God!’” Barres recalls. The electrical activity was more dynamic and complex than anyone had thought. These strange electrical properties could be explained only if the glial cells were attuned to the conditions around them, and to the signals released from nearby neurons. Barres’s glial cells, in other words, had all the machinery necessary to engage in a complex dialogue with neurons, and presumably to respond to different kinds of conditions in the brain.

Why would they need this machinery, though, if they were simply involved in cleaning up dead cells? What could they possibly be doing? It turns out that in the absence of chemicals released by glia, the neurons committed the biochemical version of suicide. Barres also showed that the astrocytes appeared to play a crucial role in forming synapses, the microscopic connections between neurons that encode memory. In isolation, neurons were capable of forming the spiny appendages necessary to reach the synapses. But without astrocytes, they were incapable of connecting to one another.

Hardly anyone believed him. When he was a young faculty member at Stanford in the 1990s, one of his grant applications to the National Institutes of Health was rejected seven times. “Reviewers kept saying, ‘Nah, there’s no way glia could be doing this,’” Barres recalls. “And even after we published two papers in Science showing that [astrocytes] had profound, almost all-or-nothing effects in controlling synapses’ formation or synapse activity, I still couldn’t get funded! I think it’s still hard to get people to think about glia as doing anything active in the nervous system.”

Marked for elimination

Beth Stevens came to study glia by accident. After graduating from Northeastern University in 1993, she followed her future husband to Washington, D.C., where he had gotten work in the U.S. Senate. Stevens had been pre-med in college and hoped to work in a lab at the National Institutes of Health. But with no previous research experience, she was soundly rebuffed. So she took a job waiting tables at a Chili’s restaurant in nearby Rockville, Maryland, and showed up at NIH with her résumé every week.

After a few months, Stevens received a call from a researcher named Doug Fields, who needed help in his lab. Fields was studying the intricacies of the process in which neurons become insulated in a coating called myelin. That insulation is essential for the transmission of electrical impulses.

As Stevens spent the following years pursuing a PhD at the University of Maryland, she was intrigued by the role that glial cells played in insulating neurons. Along the way, she became familiar with other insights into glial cells that were beginning to emerge, especially from the lab of Ben Barres. Which is why, soon after completing her PhD in 2003, Stevens found herself a postdoc in Barres’s lab at Stanford, about to make a crucial discovery.

Barres’s group had begun to identify the specific compounds astrocytes secreted that seemed to cause neurons to grow synapses. And eventually, they noticed that these compounds also stimulated production of a protein called C1q.

Conventional wisdom held that C1q was activated only in sick cells—the protein marked them to be eaten up by immune cells—and only outside the brain. But Barres had found it in the brain. And it was in healthy neurons that were arguably at their most robust stage: in early development. What was the C1q protein doing there?


A stained astrocyte.

The answer lies in the fact that marking cells for elimination is not something that happens only in diseased brains; it is also essential for development. As brains develop, their neurons form far more synaptic connections than they will eventually need. Only the ones that are used are allowed to remain. This pruning allows for the most efficient flow of neural transmissions in the brain, removing noise that might muddy the signal.

But it was unknown how exactly the process worked. Was it possible that C1q helped signal the brain to prune unused synapses? Stevens focused her postdoctoral research on finding out. “We could have been completely wrong,” she recalls. “But we went for it.”

It paid off. In a 2007 paper, Barres and Stevens showed that C1q indeed plays a role in eliminating unneeded neurons in the developing brain. And they found that the protein is virtually absent in healthy adult neurons.

Now the scientists faced a new puzzle. Does C1q show up in brain diseases because the same mechanism involved in pruning a developing brain later goes awry? Indeed, evidence was already growing that one of the earliest events in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s was significant loss of synapses.

When Stevens and Barres examined mice bred to develop glaucoma, a neurodegenerative disease that kills neurons in the optic system, they found that C1q appeared long before any other detectable sign that the disease was taking hold. It cropped up even before the cells started dying.

This suggested the immune cells might in fact cause the disease, or at the very least accelerate it. And that offered an intriguing possibility: that something could be made to halt the process. Barres founded a company, Annexon Biosciences, to develop drugs that could block C1q. Last week’s paper published by Barres, Stevens, and other researchers shows that a compound being tested by Annexon appears to be able to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s in mice bred to develop the disease. Now the company hopes to test it in humans in the next two years.

Paths to treatments

To better understand the process that C1q helps trigger, Stevens and Barres wanted to figure out what actually plays the role of Pac-Man, eating up the synapses marked for death. It was well known that white blood cells known as macrophages gobbled up diseased cells and foreign invaders in the rest of the body. But macrophages are not usually present in the brain. For their theory to work, there had to be some other mechanism. And further research has shown that the cells doing the eating even in healthy brains are those mysterious clusters of material that Beth Stevens, for years, had been gazing right past in the microscope—the microglia that Río Hortega identified almost 100 years ago.

Now Stevens’s lab at Harvard, which she opened in 2008, devotes half its efforts to figuring out what microglia are doing and what causes them to do it. These cells, it turns out, appear in the mouse embryo at day eight, before any other brain cell, which suggests they might help guide the rest of brain development—and could contribute to any number of neurodevelopmental diseases when they go wrong.

Meanwhile, she is also expanding her study of the way different substances determine what happens in the brain. C1q is actually just the first in a series of proteins that accumulate on synapses marked for elimination. Stevens has begun to uncover evidence that there is a wide array of protective “don’t eat me” molecules too. It’s the balance between all these cues that regulates whether microglia are summoned to destroy synapses. Problems in any one could, conceivably, mess up the system.

Evidence is now growing that microglia are involved in several neurodevelopmental and psychiatric problems. The potential link to schizophrenia that was revealed in January emerged after researchers at the Broad Institute, led by Steven McCarroll and a graduate student named Aswin Sekar, followed a trail of genetic clues that led them directly to Stevens’s work. In 2009, three consortia from around the globe had published papers comparing DNA in people with and without schizophrenia. It was Sekar who identified a possible pattern: the more a specific type of protein was present in synapses, the higher the risk of developing the disease. The protein, C4, was closely related to C1q, the one first identified in the brain by Stevens and Barres.

McCarroll knew that schizophrenia strikes in late adolescence and early adulthood, a time when brain circuits in the prefrontal cortex undergo extensive pruning. Others had found that areas of the prefrontal cortex are among those most ravaged by the disease, which leads to massive synapse loss. Could it be that over-pruning by rogue microglia is part of what causes schizophrenia?

To find out, Sekar and McCarroll got in touch with Stevens, and the two labs began to hold joint weekly meetings. They soon demonstrated that C4 also had a role in pruning synapses in the brains of young mice, suggesting that excessive levels of the protein could indeed lead to over-pruning—and to the thinning out of brain tissue that appears to occur as symptoms such as psychotic episodes grow worse.

If the brain damage seen in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s stems from over-pruning that might begin early in life, why don’t symptoms of those diseases show up until later? Barres thinks he knows. He notes that the brain can normally compensate for injury by rewiring itself and generating new synapses. It also contains a lot of redundancy. That would explain why patients with Parkinson’s disease don’t show discernible symptoms until they have lost 90 percent of the neurons that produce dopamine.

It also might mean that subtle symptoms could in fact be detected much earlier. Barres points to a study of nuns published in 2000. When researchers analyzed essays the nuns had written upon entering their convents decades before, they found that women who went on to develop Alzheimer’s had shown less “idea density” even in their 20s. “I think the implication of that is they could be lifelong diseases,” Barres says. “The disease process could be going on for decades and the brain is just compensating, rewiring, making new synapses.” At some point, the microglia are triggered to remove too many cells, Barres argues, and the symptoms of the disease begin to manifest fully.

Turning this insight into a treatment is far from straightforward, because much remains unclear. Perhaps an overly aggressive response from microglia is determined by some combination of genetic variants not shared by everyone. Stevens also notes that diseases like schizophrenia are not caused by one mutation; rather, a wide array of mutations with small effects cause problems when they act in concert. The genes that control the production of C4 and other immune-system proteins may be only part of the story. That may explain why not everyone who has a C4 mutation will go on to develop schizophrenia.

Nonetheless, if Barres and Stevens are right that the immune system is a common mechanism behind devastating brain disorders, that in itself is a fundamental breakthrough. Because we have not known the mechanisms that trigger such diseases, medical researchers have been able only to alleviate the symptoms rather than attack the causes. There are no drugs available to halt or even slow neurodegeneration in diseases like Alzheimer’s. Some drugs elevate neurotransmitters in ways that briefly make it easier for individuals with dementia to form new synaptic connections, but they don’t reduce the rate at which existing synapses are destroyed. Similarly, there are no treatments that tackle the causes of autism or schizophrenia. Even slowing the progress of these disorders would be a major advance. We might finally go after diseases that have run unchecked for generations.

“We’re a ways away from a cure,” Stevens says. “But we definitely have a path forward.”

Adam Piore is a freelance writer who wrote “A Shocking Way to Fix the Brain”  in November/December 2015.


Int Immunopharmacol. 2001 Mar;1(3):365-92.

Genetic, structural and functional diversities of human complement components C4A and C4B and their mouse homologues, Slp and C4.

Blanchong CA1Chung EKRupert KLYang YYang ZZhou BMoulds JMYu CY.

Author information


The complement protein C4 is a non-enzymatic component of the C3 and C5 convertases and thus essential for the propagation of the classical complement pathway. The covalent binding of C4 to immunoglobulins and immune complexes (IC) also enhances the solubilization of immune aggregates, and the clearance of IC through complement receptor one (CR1) on erythrocytes. Human C4 is the most polymorphic protein of the complement system. In this review, we summarize the current concepts on the 1-2-3 loci model of C4A and C4B genes in the population, factors affecting the expression levels of C4 transcripts and proteins, and the structural, functional and serological diversities of the C4A and C4B proteins. The diversities and polymorphisms of the mouse homologues Slp and C4 proteins are described and contrasted with their human homologues. The human C4 genes are located in the MHC class III region on chromosome 6. Each human C4 gene consists of 41 exons coding for a 5.4-kb transcript. The long gene is 20.6 kb and the short gene is 14.2 kb. In the Caucasian population 55% of the MHC haplotypes have the 2-locus, C4A-C4B configurations and 45% have an unequal number of C4A and C4B genes. Moreover, three-quarters of C4 genes harbor the 6.4 kb endogenous retrovirus HERV-K(C4) in the intron 9 of the long genes. Duplication of a C4 gene always concurs with its adjacent genes RP, CYP21 and TNX, which together form a genetic unit termed an RCCX module. Monomodular, bimodular and trimodular RCCX structures with 1, 2 and 3 complement C4 genes have frequencies of 17%, 69% and 14%, respectively. Partial deficiencies of C4A and C4B, primarily due to the presence of monomodular haplotypes and homo-expression of C4A proteins from bimodular structures, have a combined frequency of 31.6%. Multiple structural isoforms of each C4A and C4B allotype exist in the circulation because of the imperfect and incomplete proteolytic processing of the precursor protein to form the beta-alpha-gamma structures. Immunofixation experiments of C4A and C4B demonstrate > 41 allotypes in the two classes of proteins. A compilation of polymorphic sites from limited C4 sequences revealed the presence of 24 polymophic residues, mostly clustered C-terminal to the thioester bond within the C4d region of the alpha-chain. The covalent binding affinities of the thioester carbonyl group of C4A and C4B appear to be modulated by four isotypic residues at positions 1101, 1102, 1105 and 1106. Site directed mutagenesis experiments revealed that D1106 is responsible for the effective binding of C4A to form amide bonds with immune aggregates or protein antigens, and H1106 of C4B catalyzes the transacylation of the thioester carbonyl group to form ester bonds with carbohydrate antigens. The expression of C4 is inducible or enhanced by gamma-interferon. The liver is the main organ that synthesizes and secretes C4A and C4B to the circulation but there are many extra-hepatic sites producing moderate quantities of C4 for local defense. The plasma protein levels of C4A and C4B are mainly determined by the corresponding gene dosage. However, C4B proteins encoded by monomodular short genes may have relatively higher concentrations than those from long C4A genes. The 5′ regulatory sequence of a C4 gene contains a Spl site, three E-boxes but no TATA box. The sequences beyond–1524 nt may be completely different as the C4 genes at RCCX module I have RPI-specific sequences, while those at Modules II, III and IV have TNXA-specific sequences. The remarkable genetic diversity of human C4A and C4B probably promotes the exchange of genetic information to create and maintain the quantitative and qualitative variations of C4A and C4B proteins in the population, as driven by the selection pressure against a great variety of microbes. An undesirable accompanying byproduct of this phenomenon is the inherent deleterious recombinations among the RCCX constituents leading to autoimmune and genetic disorders.


C4A isotype is responsible for effective binding to form amide bonds with immune aggregates or protein antigens, while C4B isotype catalyzes the transacylation of the thioester carbonyl group to form ester bonds with carbohydrate antigens.

Derived from proteolytic degradation of complement C4, C4a anaphylatoxin is a mediator of local inflammatory process.


Schizophrenia and the Synapse

Genetic evidence suggests that overactive synaptic pruning drives development of schizophrenia.

By Ruth Williams | January 27, 2016


Compared to the brains of healthy individuals, those of people with schizophrenia have higher expression of a gene called C4, according to a paper published inNature today (January 27). The gene encodes an immune protein that moonlights in the brain as an eradicator of unwanted neural connections (synapses). The findings, which suggest increased synaptic pruning is a feature of the disease, are a direct extension of genome-wide association studies (GWASs) that pointed to the major histocompatibility (MHC) locus as a key region associated with schizophrenia risk.

“The MHC [locus] is the first and the strongest genetic association for schizophrenia, but many people have said this finding is not useful,” said psychiatric geneticist Patrick Sullivan of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine who was not involved in the study. “The value of [the present study is] to show that not only is it useful, but it opens up new and extremely interesting ideas about the biology and therapeutics of schizophrenia.”

Schizophrenia has a strong genetic component—it runs in families—yet, because of the complex nature of the condition, no specific genes or mutations have been identified. The pathological processes driving the disease remain a mystery.

Researchers have turned to GWASs in the hope of finding specific genetic variations associated with schizophrenia, but even these have not provided clear candidates.

“There are some instances where genome-wide association will literally hit one base [in the DNA],” explained Sullivan. While a 2014 schizophrenia GWAS highlighted the MHC locus on chromosome 6 as a strong risk area, the association spanned hundreds of possible genes and did not reveal specific nucleotide changes. In short, any hope of pinpointing the MHC association was going to be “really challenging,” said geneticist Steve McCarroll of Harvard who led the new study.

Nevertheless, McCarroll and colleagues zeroed in on the particular region of the MHC with the highest GWAS score—the C4 gene—and set about examining how the area’s structural architecture varied in patients and healthy people.

The C4 gene can exist in multiple copies (from one to four) on each copy of chromosome 6, and has four different forms: C4A-short, C4B-short, C4A-long, and C4B-long. The researchers first examined the “structural alleles” of the C4 locus—that is, the combinations and copy numbers of the different C4 forms—in healthy individuals. They then examined how these structural alleles related to expression of both C4Aand C4B messenger RNAs (mRNAs) in postmortem brain tissues.


Schizophrenia risk from complex variation of complement component 4

Aswin Sekar, Allison R. Bialas, Heather de Rivera, …, Schizophrenia Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, Mark J. Daly, Michael C. Carroll, Beth Stevens & Steven A. McCarroll

Nature (11 Feb 2016); 530: 177–183 http://dx.doi.org:/10.1038/nature16549

Schizophrenia is a heritable brain illness with unknown pathogenic mechanisms. Schizophrenia’s strongest genetic association at a population level involves variation in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) locus, but the genes and molecular mechanisms accounting for this have been challenging to identify. Here we show that this association arises in part from many structurally diverse alleles of the complement component 4 (C4) genes. We found that these alleles generated widely varying levels of C4A and C4B expression in the brain, with each common C4 allele associating with schizophrenia in proportion to its tendency to generate greater expression of C4A. Human C4 protein localized to neuronal synapses, dendrites, axons, and cell bodies. In mice, C4 mediated synapse elimination during postnatal development. These results implicate excessive complement activity in the development of schizophrenia and may help explain the reduced numbers of synapses in the brains of individuals with schizophrenia.

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The strongest genetic association found in schizophrenia is its association to genetic markers across the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) locus, first described in three Nature papers in 2009. …


Schizophrenia: From genetics to physiology at last

Ryan S. DhindsaDavid B. Goldstein
Nature  (11 Feb 2016); 530:162–163   http://dx.doi.org:/10.1038/nature16874

  1. Schizophrenia Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. Nature511,421–427 (2014).
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 Jianxin Shi1, et al.   Common variants on chromosome 6p22.1 are associated with schizophrenia.  Nature 460, 753-757 (6 August 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08192; Received 29 May 2009; Accepted 10 June 2009; Published online 1 July 2009; Corrected 6 August 2009

Schizophrenia, a devastating psychiatric disorder, has a prevalence of 0.5–1%, with high heritability (80–85%) and complex transmission1. Recent studies implicate rare, large, high-penetrance copy number variants in some cases2, but the genes or biological mechanisms that underlie susceptibility are not known. Here we show that schizophrenia is significantly associated with single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the extended major histocompatibility complex region on chromosome 6. We carried out a genome-wide association study of common SNPs in the Molecular Genetics of Schizophrenia (MGS) case-control sample, and then a meta-analysis of data from the MGS, International Schizophrenia Consortium and SGENE data sets. No MGS finding achieved genome-wide statistical significance. In the meta-analysis of European-ancestry subjects (8,008 cases, 19,077 controls), significant association with schizophrenia was observed in a region of linkage disequilibrium on chromosome 6p22.1 (P = 9.54 × 10-9). This region includes a histone gene cluster and several immunity-related genes—possibly implicating aetiological mechanisms involving chromatin modification, transcriptional regulation, autoimmunity and/or infection. These results demonstrate that common schizophrenia susceptibility alleles can be detected. The characterization of these signals will suggest important directions for research on susceptibility mechanisms.

Editor’s Summary   6 August 2009
Schizophrenia risk: link to chromosome 6p22.1

A genome-wide association study using the Molecular Genetics of Schizophrenia case-control data set, followed by a meta-analysis that included over 8,000 cases and 19,000 controls, revealed that while common genetic variation that underlies risk to schizophrenia can be identified, there probably are few or no single common loci with large effects. The common variants identified here lie on chromosome 6p22.1 in a region that includes a histone gene cluster and several genes implicated in immunity.


Hreinn Stefansson1,48, et al. Common variants conferring risk of schizophrenia.
Nature 460, 744-747 (6 August 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08186; Received 16 March 2009; Accepted 5 June 2009; Published online 1 July 2009

Schizophrenia is a complex disorder, caused by both genetic and environmental factors and their interactions. Research on pathogenesis has traditionally focused on neurotransmitter systems in the brain, particularly those involving dopamine. Schizophrenia has been considered a separate disease for over a century, but in the absence of clear biological markers, diagnosis has historically been based on signs and symptoms. A fundamental message emerging from genome-wide association studies of copy number variations (CNVs) associated with the disease is that its genetic basis does not necessarily conform to classical nosological disease boundaries. Certain CNVs confer not only high relative risk of schizophrenia but also of other psychiatric disorders1, 2, 3. The structural variations associated with schizophrenia can involve several genes and the phenotypic syndromes, or the ‘genomic disorders’, have not yet been characterized4. Single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)-based genome-wide association studies with the potential to implicate individual genes in complex diseases may reveal underlying biological pathways. Here we combined SNP data from several large genome-wide scans and followed up the most significant association signals. We found significant association with several markers spanning the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) region on chromosome 6p21.3-22.1, a marker located upstream of the neurogranin gene (NRGN) on 11q24.2 and a marker in intron four of transcription factor 4 (TCF4) on 18q21.2. Our findings implicating the MHC region are consistent with an immune component to schizophrenia risk, whereas the association with NRGN and TCF4 points to perturbation of pathways involved in brain development, memory and cognition.



The International Schizophrenia Consortium. Common polygenic variation contributes to risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  Nature 460, 748-752 (6 August 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08185; Received 11 February 2009; Accepted 8 June 2009; Published online 1 July 2009; Corrected 6 August 2009

Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder with a lifetime risk of about 1%, characterized by hallucinations, delusions and cognitive deficits, with heritability estimated at up to 80%1, 2. We performed a genome-wide association study of 3,322 European individuals with schizophrenia and 3,587 controls. Here we show, using two analytic approaches, the extent to which common genetic variation underlies the risk of schizophrenia. First, we implicate the major histocompatibility complex. Second, we provide molecular genetic evidence for a substantial polygenic component to the risk of schizophrenia involving thousands of common alleles of very small effect. We show that this component also contributes to the risk of bipolar disorder, but not to several non-psychiatric diseases.


The Psychiatric GWAS Consortium Steering Committee. A framework for interpreting genome-wide association studies of psychiatric disorders.  Molecular Psychiatry (2009) 14, 10–17; doi:10.1038/mp.2008.126; published online 11 November 2008

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have yielded a plethora of new findings in the past 3 years. By early 2009, GWAS on 47 samples of subjects with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia will be completed. Taken together, these GWAS constitute the largest biological experiment ever conducted in psychiatry (59 000 independent cases and controls, 7700 family trios and >40 billion genotypes). We know that GWAS can work, and the question now is whether it will work for psychiatric disorders. In this review, we describe these studies, the Psychiatric GWAS Consortium for meta-analyses of these data, and provide a logical framework for interpretation of some of the conceivable outcomes.

Keywords: genome-wide association, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia

The purpose of this article is to consider the ‘big picture’ and to provide a logical framework for the possible outcomes of these studies. This is not a review of GWAS per se as many excellent reviews of this technically and statistically intricate methodological approach are available.789101112 This is also not a review of the advantages and disadvantages of different study designs and sampling strategies for the dissection of complex psychiatric traits. We would like to consider how the dozens of GWAS papers that will soon be in the literature can be synthesized: what can integrated mega-analyses (meta-analysis is based on summary data (for example, odds ratios) from all available studies whereas ‘mega-analysis’ uses individual-level genotype and phenotype data) of all available GWAS data tell us about the etiology of these psychiatric disorders? This is an exceptional opportunity as positive or negative results will enable us to learn hard facts about these critically important psychiatric disorders. We suggest that it is not a matter of ‘success versus failure’ or ‘optimism versus pessimism’ but rather an opportunity for systematic and logical approaches to empirical data whereby both positive and appropriately qualified negative findings are informative.

The studies that comprise the Psychiatric GWAS Consortium (PGC; http://pgc.unc.edu) are shown in Table 1. GWAS data for ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia from 42 samples of European subjects should be available for mega-analyses by early 2009 (>59 000 independent cases and controls and >7700 family trios). To our knowledge, the PGC will have access to the largest set of GWAS data available.

A major change in human genetics in the past 5 years has been in the growth of controlled-access data repositories, and individual phenotype and genotype data are now available for many of the studies in Table 1. When the PGC mega-analyses are completed, most data will be available to researchers via the NIMH Human Genetics Initiative (http://nimhgenetics.org). Although the ready availability of GWAS data is a benefit to the field by allowing rapid application of a wide range of analytic strategies to GWAS data, there are potential disadvantages. GWAS mega-analysis is complex and requires considerable care and expertise to be done validly. For psychiatric phenotypes, there is the additional challenge of working with disease entities based largely on clinical description, with unknown biological validity and having both substantial clinical variation within diagnostic categories as well as overlaps across categories.13 Given the urgent need to know if there are replicable genotype–phenotype associations, a new type of collaboration was required.

The purpose of the PGC is to conduct rigorous and comprehensive within- and cross-disorder GWAS mega-analyses. The PGC began in early 2007 with the principal investigators of the four GAIN GWAS,14 and within six months had grown to 110 participating scientists from 54 institutions in 11 countries. The PGC has a coordinating committee, five disease-working groups, a cross-disorder group, a statistical analysis and computational group, and a cluster computer for statistical analysis. It is remarkable that almost all investigators approached agreed to participate and that no one has left the PGC. Most effort is donated but we have obtained funding from the NIMH, the Netherlands Scientific Organization, Hersenstichting Nederland and NARSAD.

The PGC has two major specific aims. (1) Within-disorder mega-analyses: conduct separate mega-analyses of all available GWAS data for ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia to attempt to identify genetic variation convincingly associated with any one of these five disorders. (2) Cross-disorder mega-analyses: the clinically-derived DSM-IV and ICD-10 definitions may not directly reflect the fundamental genetic architecture.15 There are two subaims. (2a) Conduct mega-analysis to identify genetic variation convincingly associated with conventional definitions of two or more disorders. This nosological aim could assist in delineating the boundaries of this set of disorders. (2b) An expert working group will convert epidemiological and genetic epidemiological evidence into explicit hypotheses about overlap among these disorders, and then conduct mega-analyses based on these definitions (for example, to examine the lifetime presence of idiopathic psychotic features without regard to diagnostic context).

The goal of the PGC is to identify convincing genetic variation-disease associations. A convincing association would be extremely unlikely to result from chance, show consistent effect sizes across all or almost all samples and be impervious to vigorous attempts to disprove the finding (for example, by investigating sources of bias, confirmatory genotyping, and so on). Careful attention will be paid to the impact of potential sources of heterogeneity17 with the goal of assessing its impact without minimizing its presence.

Biological plausibility is not an initial requirement for a convincing statistical association, as there are many examples in human genetics of previously unsuspected candidate genes nonetheless showing highly compelling associations. For example, multiple SNPs in intron 1 of the FTO gene were associated with body mass index in 13 cohorts with 38 759 participants18 and yet ‘FTO’ does not appear in an exhaustive 116 page compilation of genetic studies of obesity.19 Some strong associations are in gene deserts: multiple studies have found convincing association between prostate cancer and a region on 8q24 that is ~250 kb from the nearest annotated gene.20 Both of these examples are being intensively investigated and we suspect that a compelling mechanistic ‘story’ will emerge in the near future. The presence of a compelling association without an obvious biological mechanism establishes a priority research area for molecular biology and neuroscience of a psychiatric disorder.

The PGC will use mega-analysis as the main analytic tool as individual-level data will be available from almost all samples. To wield this tool appropriately, a number of preconditions must be met. First, genotype data from different GWAS platforms must be made comparable as the direct overlap between platforms is often modest. This requires meticulous quality control for the inclusion of both SNPs and subjects and attention to the factors that can cause bias (for example, population stratification, cryptic relatedness or genotyping batch effects). Genotype harmonization can be accomplished using imputation (2122, for example) so that the same set of ~2 million2324 directly or imputed SNP genotypes are available for all subjects. Second, phenotypes need to be harmonized across studies. This is one of the most crucial components of the PGC and we are fortunate to have world experts directing the work. Third, the mega-analyses will assess potential heterogeneity of associations across samples.

A decision-tree schematic of the potential outcomes of the PGC mega-analyses is shown in Figure 1. Note that many of the possibilities in Figure 1 are not mutually exclusive and different disorders may take different paths through this framework. It is possible that there eventually will be dozens or hundreds of sequence variants strictly associated with these disorders with frequencies ranging from very rare to common.



GWAS has the potential to yield considerable insights but it is no panacea and may well perform differently for psychiatric disorders. Even if these psychiatric GWAS efforts are successful, the outcomes will be complex. GWAS may help us learn that clinical syndromes are actually many different things—for example, proportions of individuals with schizophrenia might evidence associations with rare CNVs of major effect,56 with more common genetic variation in dozens (perhaps hundreds) of genomic regions, between genetic variation strongly modified by environmental risk factors, and some proportion may be genetically indistinguishable from the general population. Moreover, as fuel to long-standing ‘lumper versus splitter’ debates in psychiatric nosology, empirical data might show that some clinical disorders or identifiable subsets of subjects might overlap considerably.

The critical advantage of GWAS is the search of a ‘closed’ hypothesis space. If the large amount of GWAS data being generated are analyzed within a strict and coherent framework, it should be possible to establish hard facts about the fundamental genetic architecture of a set of important psychiatric disorders—which might include positive evidence of what these disorders are or exclusionary evidence of what they are not. Whatever the results, these historically large efforts should yield hard facts about ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia that may help guide the next era of psychiatric research.

  1. Pe’er I, Yelensky R, Altshuler D, Daly MJ. Estimation of the multiple testing burden for genomewide association studies of nearly all common variants. Genet Epidemiol 2008; 32: 381–385. | Article | PubMed |
  2. Weiss LA, Shen Y, Korn JM, Arking DE, Miller DT, Fossdal R et al. Association between microdeletion and microduplication at 16p11.2 and autism. N Engl J Med 2008; 358: 667–675. | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |



Hreinn Stefansson1,36, et al. Large recurrent microdeletions associated with schizophrenia. Nature 455, 232-236 (11 September 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature07229; Received 17 April 2008; Accepted 8 July 2008; Corrected 11 September 2008

Reduced fecundity, associated with severe mental disorders1, places negative selection pressure on risk alleles and may explain, in part, why common variants have not been found that confer risk of disorders such as autism2, schizophrenia3 and mental retardation4. Thus, rare variants may account for a larger fraction of the overall genetic risk than previously assumed. In contrast to rare single nucleotide mutations, rare copy number variations (CNVs) can be detected using genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism arrays. This has led to the identification of CNVs associated with mental retardation4, 5 and autism2. In a genome-wide search for CNVs associating with schizophrenia, we used a population-based sample to identify de novoCNVs by analysing 9,878 transmissions from parents to offspring. The 66 de novo CNVs identified were tested for association in a sample of 1,433 schizophrenia cases and 33,250 controls. Three deletions at 1q21.1, 15q11.2 and 15q13.3 showing nominal association with schizophrenia in the first sample (phase I) were followed up in a second sample of 3,285 cases and 7,951 controls (phase II). All three deletions significantly associate with schizophrenia and related psychoses in the combined sample. The identification of these rare, recurrent risk variants, having occurred independently in multiple founders and being subject to negative selection, is important in itself. CNV analysis may also point the way to the identification of additional and more prevalent risk variants in genes and pathways involved in schizophrenia.


The C4 gene can exist in multiple copies (from one to four) on each copy of chromosome 6, and has four different forms: C4A-short, C4B-short, C4A-long, and C4B-long. The researchers first examined the “structural alleles” of the C4 locus—that is, the combinations and copy numbers of the different C4 forms—in healthy individuals. They then examined how these structural alleles related to expression of both C4Aand C4B messenger RNAs (mRNAs) in postmortem brain tissues.

From this the researchers had a clear picture of how the architecture of the C4 locus affected expression ofC4A and C4B. Next, they compared DNA from roughly 30,000 schizophrenia patients with that from 35,000 healthy controls, and a correlation emerged: the alleles most strongly associated with schizophrenia were also those that were associated with the highest C4A expression. Measuring C4A mRNA levels in the brains of 35 schizophrenia patients and 70 controls then revealed that, on average, C4A levels in the patients’ brains were 1.4-fold higher.

C4 is an immune system “complement” factor—a small secreted protein that assists immune cells in the targeting and removal of pathogens. The discovery of C4’s association to schizophrenia, said McCarroll, “would have seemed random and puzzling if it wasn’t for work . . . showing that other complement components regulate brain wiring.” Indeed, complement protein C3 locates at synapses that are going to be eliminated in the brain, explained McCarroll, “and C4 was known to interact with C3 . . . so we thought well, actually, this might make sense.”

McCarroll’s team went on to perform studies in mice that revealed C4 is necessary for C3 to be deposited at synapses. They also showed that the more copies of the C4 gene present in a mouse, the more the animal’s neurons were pruned.

Synaptic pruning is a normal part of development and is thought to reflect the process of learning, where the brain strengthens some connections and eradicates others. Interestingly, the brains of deceased schizophrenia patients exhibit reduced neuron density. The new results, therefore, “make a lot of sense,” said Cardiff University’s Andrew Pocklington who did not participate in the work. They also make sense “in terms of the time period when synaptic pruning is occurring, which sort of overlaps with the period of onset for schizophrenia: around adolescence and early adulthood,” he added.

“[C4] has not been on anybody’s radar for having anything to do with schizophrenia, and now it is and there’s a whole bunch of really neat stuff that could happen,” said Sullivan. For one, he suggested, “this molecule could be something that is amenable to therapeutics.”




Derived from proteolytic degradation of complement C4, C4a anaphylatoxin is a mediator of local inflammatory process. It induces the contraction of smooth muscle, increases vascular permeability and causes histamine release from mast cells and basophilic leukocytes.

Non-enzymatic component of C3 and C5 convertases and thus essential for the propagation of the classical complement pathway. Covalently binds to immunoglobulins and immune complexes and enhances the solubilization of immune aggregates and the clearance of IC through CR1 on erythrocytes. C4A isotype is responsible for effective binding to form amide bonds with immune aggregates or protein antigens, while C4B isotype catalyzes the transacylation of the thioester carbonyl group to form ester bonds with carbohydrate antigens.


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News in Exploration of the Biological Causes of Mental Illness: Potential for New Treatments

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2013 for Cell Transport: James E. Rothman of Yale University; Randy W. Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley; and Dr. Thomas C. Südhof of Stanford University

Translational Research on the Mechanism of Water and Electrolyte Movements into the Cell

Synaptotagmin functions as a Calcium Sensor: How Calcium Ions Regulate the fusion of vesicles with cell membranes during Neurotransmission

Signaling Pathway that Makes Young Neurons Connect was discovered @ Scripps Research Institute

No dishonour in depression

MGH’s Largest-ever Genetic Study of Five Psychiatric Disorders: Variation in SNPs in Two Genes involved in Calcium-Channel Signaling

Modern Society, Risk and Mentally Disordered Offender









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Breaking news about genomic engineering, T2DM and cancer treatments – 9/28/2015

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator


Newly Identified Biochemical Pathway Could Be Target For Insulin Control

Mon, 09/28/2015  Duke University

In the final event leading to the development of Typ 2 diabetes, the pancreas loses its ability to secrete insulin and clear glucose from the blood. Preventing this breakdown in insulin secretion is a key goal in the fight to reduce the burden of a disease that afflicts an estimated 29 million people in the United States.

Now researchers at Duke Medicine and the University of Alberta are reporting the identification of a new biochemical pathway to control insulin secretion from islet beta cells in the pancreas, establishing a potential target for insulin control.

The study, published online Sept. 24 in the journal Cell Reports, results from a field of work called metabolomics, which uses mass spectrometry instruments to measure and trace intermediate molecules in key metabolic pathways of cells and tissues.

“The Duke group focused on metabolites in islet cells that changed in response to elevated external glucose concentrations,” said co-senior author Christopher B. Newgard, Ph.D., director of the Sarah W. Stedman Nutrition and Metabolism Center and the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute. “We found a strong increase in an intermediate in the purine/nucleotide metabolic pathway — known as adenylosuccinate, or S-AMP — in islets stimulated with glucose.”

Impairment of S-AMP production was shown to interfere with normal glucose-stimulated insulin secretion. The Duke and University of Alberta Diabetes Institute teams were also able to demonstrate that S-AMP is capable of rescuing impaired insulin secretion in islets from people with Type 2 diabetes.

Newgard said the collaborative effort between the Duke and Alberta teams also yielded a separate finding, reported online Sept. 21 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, which describes another molecular pathway that could be a potential metabolic target for insulin control.

In that study, the research teams identified a process that works essentially like a dimmer switch to adjust how much or how little insulin is secreted when blood sugar increases. This dimmer switch appears to be broken in Type 2 diabetes, but the researchers found that its function can be restored.

“For the moment, we have two separate mechanisms, but with further study we may find that they are more connected,” Newgard said. “Whether they are independent, additive or synergistic is unknown, so we are eager to bring the two projects together to see where that may lead.”

The National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research  funded the research.

Source: Duke University


Tissue-Specific Molecular Biomarker Signatures of Type 2 Diabetes

An Integrative Analysis of Transcriptomics and Protein–Protein Interaction Data

Beste Calimlioglu, Kubra Karagoz, Tuba Sevimoglu, Elif Kilic, Esra Gov, Kazim Yalcin Arga


Type2Diabetes -Sep23_2015_YOmerAkyol_1291421046

Mutual DEGs between only two different tissues/cells. [Y. Omer Akyol]

  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2D) is a major global health burden. A complex metabolic disease, type 2 diabetes affects multiple different tissues, demanding a ‘‘systems medicine’’ approach to biomarker and novel diagnostic discovery, not to mention data integration across omics-es (Günther et al. 2014; Montague et al. 2014; Sahu et al. 2014). The two important key determinants of T2D are the failure of peripheral tissues (such as liver, muscle, and adipose tissue) to respond to insulin doses (so-called insulin resistance), and the failure of suitable insulin secretion by pancreatic beta cells in response to increased blood glucose levels (Kaiser and Oetjen, 2014).

The duration of hyperglycemia caused by failure of betacells also affects insulin secretory capacity, mass, and apoptosis rate of beta-cells, resulting in additional alterations in several processes such as islet inflammation, amyloid deposition, critical B-cell alterations (Prentki and Nolan, 2006). On the other hand, the state of hyperglycemia dama
ges nerves and blood vessels, leading to major healthrelated issues such as cardiovascular diseases, stroke, blindness, dental problems, and diabetes-related amputations. Other complications of T2D include enhanced vulnerability to neurodegenerative diseases, presence of various cancer types, pregnancy problems, loss of mobility with aging, and depression (Musselman et al., 2003; Retnakaran et al., 2006).

Due to the high prevalence of T2D and its fateful complications, identifying the genes or genetic factors associated with the development of T2D and elucidating the mechanisms underlying the disease are crucial in prognosis, and development of personalized medicine and therapeutic strategies.

Since it is a polygenic disorder (i.e., multiple genes located on different chromosomes take active roles in the development of the disease), it is better to reveal that gene expression varies more across tissues than across individuals. Several studies reported findings on T2D gene expression profiles of
different tissues individually (Kazier et al., 2007; Cangemi et al., 2011; Misu et al., 2010; van Tienen et al., 2012; Dominguez et al., 2011). Despite individual studies exploring T2D specific genes in various tissues, studies considering the meta-analysis of diverse transcriptomics datasets and integrating gene expression profiles with biological networks are very limited.

Keller and co-workers (2008) studied gene expression profiles in eight experimental groups of lean and obese mice.

To read the rest of this article click here.

OMICS: A Journal of Integrative Biology integrates global high-throughput and systems approaches to 21st century science from “cell to society” – seen from a post-genomics perspective. The above article was first published in the September 2015 issue of OMICS: A Journal of Integrative Biology with the title “Tissue-Specific Molecular Biomarker Signatures of Type 2 Diabetes: An Integrative Analysis of Transcriptomics and Protein–Protein Interaction Data”. The views expressed here are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of OMICS: A Journal of Integrative Biology, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers, or their affiliates. No endorsement of any entity or technology is implied.



Newly Identified Biochemical Pathway Could Be Target For Insulin Control

9/28/2015 Duke University

In the final event leading to the development of Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas loses its ability to secrete insulin and clear glucose from the blood. Preventing this breakdown in insulin secretion is a key goal in the fight to reduce the burden of a disease that afflicts an estimated 29 million people in the United States.

Now researchers at Duke Medicine and the University of Alberta are reporting the identification of a new biochemical pathway to control insulin secretion from islet beta cells in the pancreas, establishing a potential target for insulin control.

The study, published online Sept. 24 in the journal Cell Reports, results from a field of work called metabolomics, which uses mass spectrometry instruments to measure and trace intermediate molecules in key metabolic pathways of cells and tissues.

“The Duke group focused on metabolites in islet cells that changed in response to elevated external glucose concentrations,” said co-senior author Christopher B. Newgard, Ph.D., director of the Sarah W. Stedman Nutrition and Metabolism Center and the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute. “We found a strong increase in an intermediate in the purine/nucleotide metabolic pathway — known as adenylosuccinate, or S-AMP — in islets stimulated with glucose.”

Impairment of S-AMP production was shown to interfere with normal glucose-stimulated insulin secretion. The Duke and University of Alberta Diabetes Institute teams were also able to demonstrate that S-AMP is capable of rescuing impaired insulin secretion in islets from people with Type 2 diabetes.

Newgard said the collaborative effort between the Duke and Alberta teams also yielded a separate finding, reported online Sept. 21 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, which describes another molecular pathway that could be a potential metabolic target for insulin control.

In that study, the research teams identified a process that works essentially like a dimmer switch to adjust how much or how little insulin is secreted when blood sugar increases. This dimmer switch appears to be broken in Type 2 diabetes, but the researchers found that its function can be restored.

“For the moment, we have two separate mechanisms, but with further study we may find that they are more connected,” Newgard said. “Whether they are independent, additive or synergistic is unknown, so we are eager to bring the two projects together to see where that may lead.”

The National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research funded the research.

Source: Duke University




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The Neurogenetics of Language – Patricia Kuhl

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

Leaders in Pharmaceutical Innovation

Series E. 2; 5.7


2015 George A. Miller Award

In neuroimaging studies using structural (diffusion weighted magnetic resonance imaging or DW-MRI) and functional (magnetoencephalography or MEG) imaging, my laboratory has produced data on the neural connectivity that underlies language processing, as well as electrophysiological measures of language functioning during various levels of language processing (e.g., phonemic, lexical, or sentential). Taken early in development, electrophysiological measures or “biomarkers” have been shown to predict future language performance in neurotypical children as well as children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Work in my laboratory is now combining these neuroimaging approaches with genetic sequencing, allowing us to understand the genetic contributions to language learning.




Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another — by listening to the humans around them

Kuhl Constructs: How Babies Form Foundations for Language

MAY 3, 2013

by Sarah Andrews Roehrich, M.S., CCC-SLP

Years ago, I was captivated by an adorable baby on the front cover of a book, The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind, written by a trio of research scientists including Alison Gopknik, PhDAndrew Meltzoff, PhD, and Patricia Kuhl, PhD.

At the time, I was simply interested in how babies learn about their worlds, how they conduct experiments, and how this learning could impact early brain development.  I did not realize the extent to which interactions with family, caretakers, society, and culture could shape the direction of a young child’s future.

Now, as a speech-language pathologist in Early Intervention in Massachusetts, more cognizant of the myriad of factors that shape a child’s cognitive, social-emotional, language, and literacy development, I have been absolutely delighted to discover more of the work of Dr. Kuhl, a distinguished speech-and-language pathologist at The University of Washington.  So, last spring, when I read that Dr. Kuhl was going to present “Babies’ Language Skills” as one part of a 2-part seminar series sponsored by the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Annual Distinguished Lecture Series at Harvard University1, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend. Below are some highlights from that experience and the questions it has since sparked for me:

Lip ‘Reading’ Babies
According to a study by Dr. Patricia Kuhl and Dr. Andrew Meltzoff, “Bimodal Perception of Speech in Infancy” (Science, 1982), cited in the 2005 Seattle Times article, “Infant Science: How do Babies Learn to Talk?” by Paula Bock, Drs. Patricia Kuhl and Andrew Meltzoff showed that babies as young as 18 weeks of age could listen to “Ah ah ah” or “Ee ee ee” vowel sounds and gaze at the correct, corresponding lip shape on a video monitor.
This image from Kuhl’s 2011 TED talk shows how a baby is trained to turn his head in response to a change in such vowel sounds, and is immediately rewarded by watching a black box light up while a panda bear inside pounds a drum.  Images provided courtesy of Dr. Patricia Kuhl’s Lab at the University of Washington.

Who is Dr. Patricia Kuhl and how has her work re-shaped our knowledge about how babies learn language?

Dr. Kuhl, who is co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at The University of Washington, has been internationally recognized for her research on early language and brain development, and for her studies on how young children learn.  In her most recent research experiments, she’s been using magnetoencephalography (MEG)–a relatively new neuroscience technology that measures magnetic fields generated by the activity of brain cells–to investigate how, where, and with what frequency babies from around the world process speech sounds in the brain when they are listening to adults speak in their native and non-native languages.

A 6-month-old baby sits in a magnetoencephalography machine, which maps brain activity, while listening to various languages in earphones and playing with a toy. Image originally printed in “Brain Mechanisms in Early Language Acquisition” (Neuron review, Cell Press, 2010) and provided courtesy of Dr. Patricia Kuhl’s Lab at the University of Washington.

Not only does Kuhl’s research point us in the direction of how babies learn to process phonemes, the sound units upon which many languages are built, but it is part of a larger body of studies looking at infants across languages and cultures that has revolutionized our understanding of language development over the last half of the 20th century—leading to, as Kuhl puts it, “a new view of language acquisition, that accounts for both the initial state of linguistic knowledge in infants, and infants’ extraordinary ability to learn simply by listening to their native language.”2

What is neuroplasticity and how does it underlie child development?

Babies are born with 100 billion neurons, about the same as the number of stars in the Milky Way.3 In The Whole Brain Child,Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD explain that when we undergo an experience, these brain cells respond through changes in patterns of electrical activity—in other words, they “fire” electrical signals called “action potentials.”4

In a child’s first years of life, the brain exhibits extraordinary neuroplasticity, refining its circuits in response to environmental experiences. Synapses—the sites of communication between neurons—are built, strengthened, weakened and pruned away as needed. Two short videos from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard, “Experiences Build Brain Architecture” and “Serve and Return Interaction Shapes Brain Circuitry”, nicely depict how some of this early brain development happens.5

Since brain circuits organize and reorganize themselves in response to an infant’s interactions with his or her environment, exposing babies to a variety of positive experiences (such as talking, cuddling, reading, singing, and playing in different environments) not only helps tune babies in to the language of their culture, but it also builds a foundation for developing the attention, cognition, memory, social-emotional, language and literacy, and sensory and motor skills that will help them reach their potential later on.

When and how do babies become “language-bound” listeners?

In her 2011 TED talk, “The Linguistic Genius of Babies,” Dr. Kuhl discusses how babies under 8 months of age from different cultures can detect sounds in any language from around the world, but adults cannot do this. 6   So when exactly do babies go from being “citizens of the world”, as Kuhl puts it, to becoming “language-bound” listeners, specifically focused on the language of their culture?”

Between 8-10 months of age, when babies are trying to master the sounds used in their native language, they enter a critical period for sound development.1  Kuhl explains that in one set of experiments, she compared a group of babies in America learning to differentiate the sounds “/Ra/” and “/La/,” with a group of babies in Japan.  Between 6-8 months, the babies in both cultures recognized these sounds with the same frequency.  However, by 10-12 months, after multiple training sessions, the babies in Seattle, Washington, were much better at detecting the “/Ra/-/La/” shift than were the Japanese babies.

Kuhl explains these results by suggesting that babies “take statistics” on how frequently they hear sounds in their native and non-native languages.  Because “/Ra/” and “/La/” occur more frequently in the English language, the American babies recognized these sounds far more frequently in their native language than the Japanese babies.  Kuhl believes that the results in this study indicate a shift in brain development, during which babies from each culture are preparing for their own languages and becoming “language-bound” listeners.

In what ways are nurturing interactions with caregivers more valuable to babies’ early language development than interfacing with technology?

If parents, caretakers, and other children can help mold babies’ language development simply by talking to them, it is tempting to ask whether young babies can learn language by listening to the radio, watching television, or playing on their parents’ mobile devices. I mean, what could be more engaging than the brightly-colored screens of the latest and greatest smart phones, iPads, iPods, and computers? They’re perfect for entertaining babies.  In fact, some babies and toddlers can operate their parents’ devices before even having learned how to talk.

However, based on her research, Kuhl states that young babies cannot learn language from television and it is necessary for babies to have lots of face-to-face interaction to learn how to talk.1  In one interesting study, Kuhl’s team exposed 9 month old American babies to Mandarin in various forms–in person interactions with native Mandarin speakers vs. audiovisual or audio recordings of these speakers–and then looked at the impact of this exposure on the babies’ ability to make Mandarin phonetic contrasts (not found in English) at 10-12 months of age. Strikingly, twelve laboratory visits featuring in person interactions with the native Mandarin speakers were sufficient to teach the American babies how to distinguish the Mandarin sounds as well as Taiwanese babies of the same age. However, the same number of lab visits featuring the audiovisual or audio recordings made no impact. American babies exposed to Mandarin through these technologies performed the same as a control group of American babies exposed to native English speakers during their lab visits.

This diagram depicts the results of a Kuhl study on American infants exposed to Mandarin in various forms–in person interactions with native speakers versus television or audio recordings of these speakers. As the top blue triangle shows, the American infants exposed in person to native Mandarin speakers performed just as well on a Mandarin phoneme distinction task as age-matched Taiwanese counterparts. However, those American infants exposed to television or audio recordings of the Mandarin speakers performed the same as a control group of American babies exposed to native English speakers during their lab visits. Diagram displayed in Kuhl’s TED TAlk 6, provided courtesy of Dr. Patricia Kuhl’s Lab at the University of Washington.

Kuhl believes that this is primarily because a baby’s interactions with others engages the social brain, a critical element for helping children learn to communicate in their native and non-native languages. 6  In other words, learning language is not simply a technical skill that can be learned by listening to a recording or watching a show on a screen.  Instead, it is a special gift that is handed down from one generation to the next.

Language is learned through talking, singing, storytelling, reading, and many other nurturing experiences shared between caretaker and child.  Babies are naturally curious; they watch every movement and listen to every sound they hear around them.  When parents talk, babies look up and watch their mouth movements with intense wonder.  Parents respond in turn, speaking in “motherese,” a special variant of language designed to bathe babies in the sound patterns and speech sounds of their native language. Motherese helps babies hear the “edges” of sound, the very thing that is difficult for babies who exhibit symptoms of dyslexia and auditory processing issues later on.

Over time, by listening to and engaging with the speakers around them, babies build sound maps which set the stage for them to be able to say words and learn to read later on.  In fact, based on years of research, Kuhl has discovered that babies’ abilities to discriminate phonemes at 7 months-old is a predictor of future reading skills for that child at age 5.7

I believe that educating families about brain development, nurturing interactions, and the benefits and limits of technology is absolutely critical to helping families focus on what is most important in developing their children’s communication skills.  I also believe that Kuhl’s work is invaluable in this regard.  Not only has it focused my attention on how babies form foundations for language, but it has illuminated my understanding of how caretaker-child interactions help set the stage for babies to become language-bound learners.


(1) Kuhl, P. (April 3, 2012.) Talk on “Babies’ Language Skills.” Mind, Brain, and Behavior Annual Distinguished Lecture Series, Harvard University.

(2) Kuhl, P. (2000). “A New View of Language Acquisition.” This paper was presented at the National Academy of Sciences colloquium “Auditory Neuroscience: Development, Transduction, and Integration,” held May 19–21, 2000, at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, CA. Published by the National Academy of Sciences.

(3) Bock, P. (2005.)  “The Baby Brain.  Infant Science: How do Babies Learn to Talk?” Pacific Northwest: The Seattle Times Magazine.

(4) Siegel, D., Bryson, T. (2011.)  The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. New York, NY:  Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

(5) Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. “Experiences Build Brain Architecture” and “Serve and Return Interaction Shapes Brain Circuitry” videos, two parts in the three-part series, “Three Core Concepts in Early Development.


(6) Kuhl, P.  (February 18, 2011.) “The Linguistic Genius of Babies,” video talk on TED.com, a TEDxRainier event.


(7) Lerer, J. (2012.) “Professor Discusses Babies’ Language Skills.”  The Harvard Crimson.


Andrew Meltzoff & Patricia Kuhl: Joint attention to mind

Sarah DeWeerdt  11 Feb 2013

Power couple: In addition to a dizzying array of peer-reviewed publications, Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl have written a popular book on brain development, given TED talks and lobbied political leaders.

Andrew Meltzoff shares many things with his wife — research dollars, authorship, a keen interest in the young brain — but he does not keep his wife’s schedule.

“It’s one of the agreements we have,” he says, laying out the rule with a twinkle in his eye that conveys both the delights and the complications of working with one’s spouse.

Meltzoff, professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle, and his wife, speech and hearing sciences professor Patricia Kuhl, are co-directors of the university’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, which focuses on the development of the brain and mind during the first five years of life.

Between them, they have shown that learning is a fundamentally social process, and that babies begin this social learning when they are just weeks or even days old.

You could say the couple is attached at the cerebral cortex, but not at the hip: They take equal roles in running the institute, but they each have their own daily rhythms and distinct, if overlapping, scientific interests.

Kuhl studies how infants “crack the language code,” as she puts it — how they figure out sounds and meanings and eventually learn to produce speech. Meltzoff’s work focuses on social building blocks such as imitation and joint attention, or a shared focus on an object or activity. Meltzoff says these basic behaviors help children develop theory of mind, a sophisticated awareness and understanding of others’ thoughts and feelings.

All of these abilities are impaired in children with autism. Most of the couple’s studies have focused on typically developing infants, because, they say, it’s essential to understand typical development in order to appreciate the irregularities in autism.

Both also study autism, which can in turn help explain typical development.

In addition to a dizzying array of peer-reviewed publications, the duo have written a popular book on developmental psychiatry, The Scientist in the Crib, and promote their ideas through TED talks and by lobbying political leaders.

Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of the autism science and advocacy organization Autism Speaks and a longtime collaborator, calls Meltzoff and Kuhl “the dynamic duo.” “They’re sort of bigger-than-life type people, who fill the room when they walk into it,” she says.

Making a match:

Meltzoff and Kuhl’s story began with a scientific twist on a standard rom-com meet cute.

It was the early 1980s, and Kuhl, who had recently joined the faculty at the University of Washington, wanted to understand how infants hear and see vowels. But she was having trouble designing an effective experiment.

“I kept running into Andy’s office,” which was near hers, to talk it through, Kuhl recalls.

Meltzoff had done some research on how babies integrate what they see with what they touch, a process called cross-modal matching1. Soon he and Kuhl realized that they could adapt his experimental design to her question, and decided to collaborate.

They showed babies two video screens, each featuring a person mouthing a different vowel sound – “ahhh” or “eeee.” A speaker placed between the two screens played one of those two vowel sounds.

They found that babies as young as 18 to 20 weeks look longer at the face that matches the sound they hear, integrating faces with voices2.

But that wasn’t the only significant result from those experiments.

“Speaking only for myself, I will say I became very interested in the very attractive, smart blonde that I was collaborating with,” Meltzoff says. “Criticizing each other’s scientific writing at the same time the relationship was building was… interesting.”

And effective: Their paper appeared in Science in 1982, and the couple married three years later.

Listening to Meltzoff tell that story, it’s easy to understand why some colleagues say he is funny but they can’t quite explain why. His humor is subtle and wry. More obvious is his passion, not just for science, but for working out the theory underlying empirical results. Even his wife describes his personality as “cerebral.”

“He just has this laser vision for homing in on what is the heart of the issue,” says Rechele Brooks, research assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, who collaborates with Meltzoff on studies of gaze.

For example, in one of his earliest papers, Meltzoff wanted to investigate how babies learn to imitate. He found that infants just 12 to 21 days old can imitate both facial expressions and hand gestures, much earlier than previously thought3.

“It really turned the scientific community on its head,” Brooks says.

Early insights:

Face to face: Meltzoff and Kuhl are developing a method to simultaneously record the brain activity of two people as they interact.

Meltzoff continued to study infants, tracing back the components of theory of mind to their earliest developmental source. That sparked the interest of Dawson, who had gotten to know Meltzoff as a student at the University of Washington in the 1970s, and became the first director of the university’s autism center in 1996.

Meltzoff and Dawson together applied his techniques to study young, often nonverbal, children with autism. In one study, they found that children with autism have more trouble imitating others than do either typically developing children or those with Down syndrome4.

In another study, they found that children with autism are less interested in social sounds such as clapping or hearing their name called than are their typically developing peers5.  They also found that how children with autism imitate and play with toys when they are 3 or 4 years old predicts their communication skills two years later6.

Most previous studies of autism had focused on older children, Dawson says, and this work helped paint a picture of the disorder earlier in childhood.

Kuhl began her career with studies showing that monkeys7 and even chinchillas8 can distinguish the difference between speech sounds, or phonemes, such as “ba” and “pa,” just as human infants can.

“The bottom line was that animals were sharing this aspect of perception,” Kuhl says.

So why are people so much better than animals at learning language? Kuhl has been trying to answer that question ever since, first through behavioral studies and then by measuring brain activity using imaging techniques.

Kuhl is soft-spoken, but a listener wants to lean in to catch every word. Scientists who have worked with her describe her as poised and perfectly put together, a master of gentle yet effective diplomacy.

“She has her sort of magnetic power to pull people together,” says Yang Zhang, associate professor of speech-language-hearing sciences at the University of Minnesota in Rochester, who was a graduate student and postdoctoral researcher in Kuhl’s lab beginning in the late 1990s.

Listen and learn:

At one point, Kuhl turned her considerable powers of persuasion on a famously smooth negotiator, then-President Bill Clinton.

Kuhl had shown that newborns hear virtually all speech sounds, but by 6 months of age they lose the ability to distinguish sounds that aren’t part of their native language9.

At the White House Conference on Early Childhood Development and Learning in 1997, she described how infants learn by listening, long before they can speak.

Clinton, ever the policy wonk, asked her how much babies need to hear in order to learn. Kuhl said she didn’t know — but if Clinton gave her the funds, she would find out. “Even the president could see that research on the effects of language input on the young brain had impact on society,” she says.

Kuhl used the funds Clinton gave her to design a study in which 9-month-old babies in the U.S. received 12 short Mandarin Chinese ‘lessons.’ The babies quickly learned to distinguish speech sounds in the second language, her team found — but only if the speaker was live, not in a video10.

Those results contributed to Kuhl’s ‘social gating’ hypothesis, which holds that social interaction is necessary for picking up on the sounds and patterns of language. “We’re saying that social interaction is a kind of gate to an interest in learning, the kind that humans are completely masters of,” she says.

Her results also suggest that the language problems in children with autism may be the result of their social deficits.

“Children with autism will have a very difficult time acquiring language if language requires the social gate to be open,” she says.

Over the years, Kuhl and Meltzoff have had largely independent research programs, but her recent focus on the social roots of language dovetails with his long-time focus on social interaction.

These days, they are trying to develop ‘face-to-face neuroscience,’ which involves simultaneously recording brain activity from two people as they interact with each other.

This approach would allow researchers to observe, for example, what happens in an infant’s brain when she hears her mother’s voice, and what happens in the mother’s brain as she sees her infant respond to her. “It’s going to be very special to do,” Meltzoff says enthusiastically, even though the effort is more directly related to Kuhl’s work than to his own.

It’s clear that this fervor for each other’s work goes both ways.

“That’s one of the great things about being married to a scientist,” Meltzoff says. “When you come home and think, ‘God, I really nailed this methodologically,’ your wife, instead of yawning, leans forward and says, ‘You did? Tell me about the method, that’s so exciting.’”

News and Opinion articles on SFARI.org are editorially independent of the Simons Foundation.


1: Meltzoff A.N. and R.W. Borton Nature 282, 403-404 (1979) PubMed

2: Kuhl P.K. and A.N. Meltzoff Science 218, 1138-1141 (1982) PubMed

3: Meltzoff A.N. and M.K. Moore Science 198, 75-78 (1977) PubMed

4: Dawson G. et al. Child Dev. 69, 1276-1285 (1998) PubMed

5: Dawson G. et al. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 28, 479-485 (1998) PubMed

6: Toth K. et al. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 36, 993-1005 (2006) PubMed

7: Kuhl P.K. and D.M. Padden Percept. Psychophys. 32, 542-550 (1982) PubMed

8: Kuhl P.K. and J.D. Miller Science 190, 69-72 (1975) PubMed

9: Kuhl P.K. et al. Science 255, 606-608 (1992) PubMed

10: Kuhl P.K. et al. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 100, 9096-9101 (2003) PubMed



Using genetic data in cognitive neuroscience: from growing pains to genuine insights

Adam E. Green, Marcus R. Munafò, Colin G. DeYoung, John A. Fossella, Jin Fan & Jeremy R. Gray
Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2008 Sep; 9, 710-720

Research that combines genetic and cognitive neuroscience data aims to elucidate the mechanisms that underlie human behaviour and experience by way of ‘intermediate phenotypes’: variations in brain function. Using neuroimaging and other methods, this approach is poised to make the transition from health-focused investigations to inquiries into cognitive, affective and social functions, including ones that do not readily lend themselves to animal models. The growing pains of this emerging field are evident, yet there are also reasons for a measured optimism.

NSF – Cognitive Neuroscience Award

The cross-disciplinary integration and exploitation of new techniques in cognitive neuroscience has generated a rapid growth in significant scientific advances. Research topics have included sensory processes (including olfaction, thirst, multi-sensory integration), higher perceptual processes (for faces, music, etc.), higher cognitive functions (e.g., decision-making, reasoning, mathematics, mental imagery, awareness), language (e.g., syntax, multi-lingualism, discourse), sleep, affect, social processes, learning, memory, attention, motor, and executive functions. Cognitive neuroscientists further clarify their findings by examining developmental and transformational aspects of such phenomena across the span of life, from infancy to late adulthood, and through time.

New frontiers in cognitive neuroscience research have emerged from investigations that integrate data from a variety of techniques. One very useful technique has been neuroimaging, including positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), magnetoencephalography (MEG), optical imaging (near infrared spectroscopy or NIRS), anatomical MRI, and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). A second class of techniques includes physiological recording such as subdural and deep brain electrode recording, electroencephalography (EEG), event-related electrical potentials (ERPs), and galvanic skin responses (GSRs). In addition, stimulation methods have been employed, including transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), subdural and deep brain electrode stimulation, and drug stimulation. A fourth approach involves cognitive and behavioral methods, such as lesion-deficit neuropsychology and experimental psychology. Other techniques have included genetic analysis, molecular modeling, and computational modeling. The foregoing variety of methods is used with individuals in healthy, neurological, psychiatric, and cognitively-impaired conditions. The data from such varied sources can be further clarified by comparison with invasive neurophysiological recordings in non-human primates and other mammals.

Findings from cognitive neuroscience can elucidate functional brain organization, such as the operations performed by a particular brain area and the system of distributed, discrete neural areas supporting a specific cognitive, perceptual, motor, or affective operation or representation. Moreover, these findings can reveal the effect on brain organization of individual differences (including genetic variation), plasticity, and recovery of function following damage to the nervous system.

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Neonatal Pathophysiology

Neonatal Pathophysiology

Writer and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP 



This curation deals with a large and specialized branch of medicine that grew since the mid 20th century in concert with the developments in genetics and as a result of a growing population, with large urban populations, increasing problems of premature deliveries.  The problems of prematurity grew very preterm to very low birth weight babies with special problems.  While there were nurseries, the need for intensive care nurseries became evident in the 1960s, and the need for perinatal care of pregnant mothers also grew as a result of metabolic problems of the mother, intrauterine positioning of the fetus, and increasing numbers of teen age pregnancies as well as nutritional problems of the mother.  There was also a period when the manufacturers of nutritional products displaced the customary use of breast feeding, which was consequential.  This discussion is quite comprehensive, as it involves a consideration of the heart, the lungs, the brain, and the liver, to a large extent, and also the kidneys and skeletal development.

It is possible to outline, with a proportionate emphasis based on frequency and severity, this as follows:

  1. Genetic and metabolic diseases
  2. Nervous system
  3. Cardiovascular
  4. Pulmonary
  5. Skeletal – bone and muscle
  6. Hematological
  7. Liver
  8. Esophagus, stomach, and intestines
  9. Kidneys
  10. Immune system

Fetal Development

Gestation is the period of time between conception and birth when a baby grows and develops inside the mother’s womb. Because it’s impossible to know exactly when conception occurs, gestational age is measured from the first day of the mother’s last menstrual cycle to the current date. It is measured in weeks. A normal gestation lasts anywhere from 37 to 41 weeks.

Week 5 is the start of the “embryonic period.” This is when all the baby’s major systems and structures develop. The embryo’s cells multiply and start to take on specific functions. This is called differentiation. Blood cells, kidney cells, and nerve cells all develop. The embryo grows rapidly, and the baby’s external features begin to form.

Week 6-9:   Brain forms into five different areas. Some cranial nerves are visible. Eyes and ears begin to form. Tissue grows that will the baby’s spine and other bones. Baby’s heart continues to grow and now beats at a regular rhythm. Blood pumps through the main vessels. Your baby’s brain continues to grow. The lungs start to form. Limbs look like paddles. Essential organs begin to grow.

Weeks 11-18: Limbs extended. Baby makes sucking motion. Movement of limbs. Liver and pancreas produce secretions. Muscle and bones developing.

Week 19-21: Baby can hear. Mom feels baby – and quickening.





Inherited Metabolic Disorders

The original cause of most genetic metabolic disorders is a gene mutation that occurred many, many generations ago. The gene mutation is passed along through the generations, ensuring its preservation.

Each inherited metabolic disorder is quite rare in the general population. Considered all together, inherited metabolic disorders may affect about 1 in 1,000 to 2,500 newborns. In certain ethnic populations, such as Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of central and eastern European ancestry), the rate of inherited metabolic disorders is higher.

Hundreds of inherited metabolic disorders have been identified, and new ones continue to be discovered. Some of the more common and important genetic metabolic disorders include:

Lysosomal storage disorders : Lysosomes are spaces inside cells that break down waste products of metabolism. Various enzyme deficiencies inside lysosomes can result in buildup of toxic substances, causing metabolic disorders including:

  • Hurler syndrome (abnormal bone structure and developmental delay)
  • Niemann-Pick disease (babies develop liver enlargement, difficulty feeding, and nerve damage)
  • Tay-Sachs disease (progressive weakness in a months-old child, progressing to severe nerve damage; the child usually lives only until age 4 or 5)
  • Gauchers disease and others

Galactosemia: Impaired breakdown of the sugar galactose leads to jaundice, vomiting, and liver enlargement after breast or formula feeding by a newborn.

Maple syrup urine disease: Deficiency of an enzyme called BCKD causes buildup of amino acids in the body. Nerve damage results, and the urine smells like syrup.

Phenylketonuria (PKU): Deficiency of the enzyme PAH results in high levels of phenylalanine in the blood. Mental retardation results if the condition is not recognized.

Glycogen storage diseases: Problems with sugar storage lead to low blood sugar levels, muscle pain, and weakness.

Metal metabolism disorders: Levels of trace metals in the blood are controlled by special proteins. Inherited metabolic disorders can result in protein malfunction and toxic accumulation of metal in the body:

Wilson disease (toxic copper levels accumulate in the liver, brain, and other organs)

Hemochromatosis (the intestines absorb excessive iron, which builds up in the liver, pancreas, joints, and heart, causing damage)

Organic acidemias: methylmalonic acidemia and propionic acidemia.

Urea cycle disorders: ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency and citrullinemia

Hemoglobinopathies – thalassemias, sickle cell disease

Red cell enzyme disorders – glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, pyruvate kinase

This list is by no means complete.


New variations in the galactose-1-phosphate uridyltransferase (GALT) gene

Clinical and molecular spectra in galactosemic patients from neonatal screening in northeastern Italy: Structural and functional characterization of new variations in the galactose-1-phosphate uridyltransferase (GALT) gene

E Viggiano, A Marabotti, AP Burlina, C Cazzorla, MR D’Apice, et al.
Gene 559 (2015) 112–118
Galactosemia (OMIM 230400) is a rare autosomal recessive inherited disorder caused by deficiency of galactose-1-phosphate uridyltransferase (GALT; OMIM 606999) activity. The incidence of galactosemia is 1 in 30,000–60,000, with a prevalence of 1 in 47,000 in the white population. Neonates with galactosemia can present acute symptoms, such as severe hepatic and renal failure, cataract and sepsis after milk introduction. Dietary restriction of galactose determines the clinical improvement in these patients. However, despite early diagnosis by neonatal screening and dietary treatment, a high percentage of patients develop long-term complications such as cognitive disability, speech problems, neurological and/or movement disorders and, in females, ovarian dysfunction.

With the benefit of early diagnosis by neonatal screening and early therapy, the acute presentation of classical galactosemia can be prevented. The objectives of the current study were to report our experience with a group of galactosemic patients identified through the neonatal screening programs in northeastern Italy during the last 30 years.

No neonatal deaths due to galactosemia complications occurred after the introduction of the neonatal screening program. However, despite the early diagnosis and dietary treatment, the patients with classical galactosemia showed one or more long-term complications.

A total of 18 different variations in the GALT gene were found in the patient cohort: 12 missense, 2 frameshift, 1 nonsense, 1 deletion, 1 silent variation, and 1 intronic. Six (p.R33P, p.G83V, p.P244S, p.L267R, p.L267V, p.E271D) were new variations. The most common variation was p.Q188R (12 alleles, 31.5%), followed by p.K285N (6 alleles, 15.7%) and p.N314D (6 alleles, 15.7%). The other variations comprised 1 or 2 alleles. In the patients carrying a new mutation, the biochemical analysis of GALT activity in erythrocytes showed an activity of < 1%. In silico analysis (SIFT, PolyPhen-2 and the computational analysis on the static protein structure) showed potentially damaging effects of the six new variations on the GALT protein, thus expanding the genetic spectrum of GALT variations in Italy. The study emphasizes the difficulty in establishing a genotype–phenotype correlation in classical galactosemia and underlines the importance of molecular diagnostic testing prior to making any treatment.

Diagnosis and Management of Hereditary Hemochromatosis

Reena J. Salgia, Kimberly Brown
Clin Liver Dis 19 (2015) 187–198

Hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) is a diagnosis most commonly made in patients with elevated iron indices (transferrin saturation and ferritin), and HFE genetic mutation testing showing C282Y homozygosity.

The HFE mutation is believed to result in clinical iron overload through altering hepcidin levels resulting in increased iron absorption.

The most common clinical complications of HH include cirrhosis, diabetes, nonischemic cardiomyopathy, and hepatocellular carcinoma.

Liver biopsy should be performed in patients with HH if the liver enzymes are elevated or serum ferritin is greater than 1000 mg/L. This is useful to determine the degree of iron overload and stage the fibrosis.

Treatment of HH with clinical iron overload involves a combination of phlebotomy and/or chelation therapy. Liver transplantation should be considered for patients with HH-related decompensated cirrhosis.

Health economic evaluation of plasma oxysterol screening in the diagnosis of Niemann–Pick Type C disease among intellectually disabled using discrete event simulation

CDM van Karnebeek, Tima Mohammadi, Nicole Tsaod, Graham Sinclair, et al.
Molecular Genetics and Metabolism 114 (2015) 226–232

Background: Recently a less invasive method of screening and diagnosing Niemann–Pick C (NP-C) disease has emerged. This approach involves the use of a metabolic screening test (oxysterol assay) instead of the current practice of clinical assessment of patients suspected of NP-C (review of medical history, family history and clinical examination for the signs and symptoms). Our objective is to compare costs and outcomes of plasma oxysterol screening versus current practice in diagnosis of NP-C disease among intellectually disabled (ID) patients using decision-analytic methods.
Methods: A discrete event simulation model was conducted to follow ID patients through the diagnosis and treatment of NP-C, forecast the costs and effectiveness for a cohort of ID patients and compare the outcomes and costs in two different arms of the model: plasma oxysterol screening and routine diagnosis procedure (anno 2013) over 5 years of follow up. Data from published sources and clinical trials were used in simulation model. Unit costs and quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) were discounted at a 3% annual rate in the base case analysis. Deterministic and probabilistic sensitivity analyses were conducted.
Results: The outcomes of the base case model showed that using plasma oxysterol screening for diagnosis of NP-C disease among ID patients is a dominant strategy. It would result in lower total cost and would slightly improve patients’ quality of life. The average amount of cost saving was $3642 CAD and the incremental QALYs per each individual ID patient in oxysterol screening arm versus current practice of diagnosis NP-C was 0.0022 QALYs. Results of sensitivity analysis demonstrated robustness of the outcomes over the wide range of changes in model inputs.
Conclusion: Whilst acknowledging the limitations of this study, we conclude that screening ID children and adolescents with oxysterol tests compared to current practice for the diagnosis of NP-C is a dominant strategy with clinical and economic benefits. The less costly, more sensitive and specific oxysterol test has potential to save costs to the healthcare system while improving patients’ quality of life and may be considered as a routine tool in the NP-C diagnosis armamentarium for ID. Further research is needed to elucidate its effectiveness in patients presenting characteristics other than ID in childhood and adolescence.

Neurological and Behavioral Disorders

Estrogen receptor signaling during vertebrate development

Maria Bondesson, Ruixin Hao, Chin-Yo Lin, Cecilia Williams, Jan-Åke Gustafsson
Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1849 (2015) 142–151

Estrogen receptors are expressed and their cognate ligands produced in all vertebrates, indicative of important and conserved functions. Through evolution estrogen has been involved in controlling reproduction, affectingboth the development of reproductive organs and reproductive behavior. This review broadly describes the synthesis of estrogens and the expression patterns of aromatase and the estrogen receptors, in relation to estrogen functions in the developing fetus and child. We focus on the role of estrogens for the development of reproductive tissues, as well as non-reproductive effects on the developing brain. We collate data from human, rodent, bird and fish studies and highlight common and species-specific effects of estrogen signaling on fetal development. Morphological malformations originating from perturbed estrogen signaling in estrogen receptor and aromatase knockout mice are discussed, as well as the clinical manifestations of rare estrogen receptor alpha and aromatase gene mutations in humans. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Nuclear receptors in animal development.


Memory function and hippocampal volumes in preterm born very-low-birth-weight (VLBW) young adults

Synne Aanes, Knut Jørgen Bjuland, Jon Skranes, Gro C.C. Løhaugen
NeuroImage 105 (2015) 76–83

The hippocampi are regarded as core structures for learning and memory functions, which is important for daily functioning and educational achievements. Previous studies have linked reduction in hippocampal volume to working memory problems in very low birth weight (VLBW; ≤1500 g) children and reduced general cognitive ability in VLBW adolescents. However, the relationship between memory function and hippocampal volume has not been described in VLBW subjects reaching adulthood. The aim of the study was to investigate memory function and hippocampal volume in VLBW young adults, both in relation to perinatal risk factors and compared to term born controls, and to look for structure–function relationships. Using Wechsler Memory Scale-III and MRI, we included 42 non-disabled VLBW and 61 control individuals at age 19–20 years, and related our findings to perinatal risk factors in the VLBW-group. The VLBW young adults achieved lower scores on several subtests of the Wechsler Memory Scale-III, resulting in lower results in the immediate memory indices (visual and auditory), the working memory index, and in the visual delayed and general memory delayed indices, but not in the auditory delayed and auditory recognition delayed indices. The VLBW group had smaller absolute and relative hippocampal volumes than the controls. In the VLBW group inferior memory function, especially for the working memory index, was related to smaller hippocampal volume, and both correlated with lower birth weight and more days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Our results may indicate a structural–functional relationship in the VLBW group due to aberrant hippocampal development and functioning after preterm birth.

The relation of infant attachment to attachment and cognitive and behavioural outcomes in early childhood

Yan-hua Ding, Xiu Xua, Zheng-yan Wang, Hui-rong Li, Wei-ping Wang
Early Human Development 90 (2014) 459–464

Background: In China, research on the relation of mother–infant attachment to children’s development is scarce.
Aims: This study sought to investigate the relation of mother–infant attachment to attachment, cognitive and behavioral development in young children.                                                                                                                            Study design: This study used a longitudinal study design.
Subjects: The subjects included healthy infants (n=160) aged 12 to 18 months.
Outcome measures: Ainsworth’s “Strange Situation Procedure” was used to evaluate mother–infant attachment types. The attachment Q-set (AQS) was used to evaluate the attachment between young children and their mothers. The Bayley scale of infant development-second edition (BSID-II) was used to evaluate cognitive developmental level in early childhood. Achenbach’s child behavior checklist (CBCL) for 2- to 3-year-oldswas used to investigate behavioral problems.
Results: In total, 118 young children (73.8%) completed the follow-up; 89.7% of infants with secure attachment and 85.0% of infants with insecure attachment still demonstrated this type of attachment in early childhood (κ = 0.738, p b 0.05). Infants with insecure attachment collectively exhibited a significantly lower mental development index (MDI) in early childhood than did infants with secure attachment, especially the resistant type. In addition, resistant infants were reported to have greater social withdrawal, sleep problems and aggressive behavior in early childhood.
Conclusion: There is a high consistency in attachment development from infancy to early childhood. Secure mother–infant attachment predicts a better cognitive and behavioral outcome; whereas insecure attachment, especially the resistant attachment, may lead to a lower cognitive level and greater behavioral problems in early childhood.

representations of the HPA axis

representations of the HPA axis

representations of limbic stress-integrative pathways from the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus

representations of limbic stress-integrative pathways from the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus

Fetal programming of schizophrenia: Select mechanisms

Monojit Debnatha, Ganesan Venkatasubramanian, Michael Berk
Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 49 (2015) 90–104

Mounting evidence indicates that schizophrenia is associated with adverse intrauterine experiences. An adverse or suboptimal fetal environment can cause irreversible changes in brain that can subsequently exert long-lasting effects through resetting a diverse array of biological systems including endocrine, immune and nervous. It is evident from animal and imaging studies that subtle variations in the intrauterine environment can cause recognizable differences in brain structure and cognitive functions in the offspring. A wide variety of environmental factors may play a role in precipitating the emergent developmental dysregulation and the consequent evolution of psychiatric traits in early adulthood by inducing inflammatory, oxidative and nitrosative stress (IO&NS) pathways, mitochondrial dysfunction, apoptosis, and epigenetic dysregulation. However, the precise mechanisms behind such relationships and the specificity of the risk factors for schizophrenia remain exploratory. Considering the paucity of knowledge on fetal programming of schizophrenia, it is timely to consolidate the recent advances in the field and put forward an integrated overview of the mechanisms associated with fetal origin of schizophrenia.

NMDA receptor dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders

Eun-Jae Lee, Su Yeon Choi and Eunjoon Kim
Current Opinion in Pharmacology 2015, 20:8–13

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) represent neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by two core symptoms;

(1)  impaired social interaction and communication, and
(2)  restricted and repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities.

ASDs affect ~ 1% of the population, and are considered to be highly genetic in nature. A large number (~600) of ASD-related genetic variations have been identified (sfari.org), and target gene functions are apparently quite diverse. However, some fall onto common pathways, including synaptic function and chromosome remodeling, suggesting that core mechanisms may exist.

Abnormalities and imbalances in neuronal excitatory and inhibitory synapses have been implicated in diverse neuropsychiatric disorders including autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Increasing evidence indicates that dysfunction of NMDA receptors (NMDARs) at excitatory synapses is associated with ASDs. In support of this, human ASD-associated genetic variations are found in genes encoding NMDAR subunits. Pharmacological enhancement or suppression of NMDAR function ameliorates ASD symptoms in humans. Animal models of ASD display bidirectional NMDAR dysfunction, and correcting this deficit rescues ASD-like behaviors. These findings suggest that deviation of NMDAR function in either direction contributes to the development of ASDs, and that correcting NMDAR dysfunction has therapeutic potential for ASDs.

Among known synaptic proteins implicated in ASD are metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs). Functional enhancement and suppression of mGluR5 are associated with fragile X syndrome and tuberous sclerosis, respectively, which share autism as a common phenotype. More recently, ionotropic glutamate receptors, namely NMDA receptors (NMDARs) and AMPA receptors (AMPARs), have also been implicated in ASDs. In this review, we will focus on NMDA receptors and summarize evidence supporting the hypothesis that NMDAR dysfunction contributes to ASDs, and, by extension, that correcting NMDAR dysfunction has therapeutic potential for ASDs. ASD-related human NMDAR genetic variants.

Chemokines roles within the hippocampus

Chemokines roles within the hippocampus

IL-1 mediates stress-induced activation of the HPA axis

IL-1 mediates stress-induced activation of the HPA axis

A systemic model of the beneficial role of immune processes in behavioral and neural plasticity

A systemic model of the beneficial role of immune processes in behavioral and neural plasticity

Three Classes of Glutamate Receptors

Three Classes of Glutamate Receptors

Clinical studies on ASDs have identified genetic variants of NMDAR subunit genes. Specifically, de novo mutations have been identified in the GRIN2B gene, encoding the GluN2B subunit. In addition, SNP analyses have linked both GRIN2A (GluN2A subunit) and GRIN2B with ASDs. Because assembled NMDARs contain four subunits, each with distinct properties, ASD-related GRIN2A/ GRIN2B variants likely alter the functional properties of NMDARs and/or NMDAR-dependent plasticity.

Pharmacological modulation of NMDAR function can improve ASD symptoms. D-cycloserine (DCS), an NMDAR agonist, significantly ameliorates social withdrawal and repetitive behavior in individuals with ASD. These results suggest that reduced NMDAR function may contribute to the development of ASDs in humans.

We can divide animal studies into two groups. The first group consists of animals in which NMDAR modulators were shown to normalize both NMDAR dysfunction and ASD-like behaviors, establishing strong association between NMDARs and ASD phenotypes (Fig.). In the second group, NMDAR modulators were shown to rescue ASD-like behaviors, but NMDAR dysfunction and its correction have not been demonstrated.

ASD models with data showing rescue of both NMDAR dysfunction and ASD like behaviors Mice lacking neuroligin-1, an excitatory postsynaptic adhesion molecule, show reduced NMDAR function in the hippocampus and striatum, as evidenced by a decrease in NMDA/AMPA ratio and long-term potentiation (LTP). Neuroligin-1 is thought to enhance synaptic NMDAR function, by directly interacting with and promoting synaptic localization of NMDARs.

Fig not shown.

Bidirectional NMDAR dysfunction in animal models of ASD. Animal models of ASD with bidirectional NMDAR dysfunction can be positioned on either side of an NMDAR function curve. Model animals were divided into two groups.

Group 1: NMDAR modulators normalize both NMDAR dysfunction and ASD-like behaviors (green).

Group 2: NMDAR modulators rescue ASD-like behaviors, but NMDAR dysfunction and its rescue have not been demonstrated (orange). Note that Group 2 animals are tentatively placed on the left-hand side of the slope based on the observed DCS rescue of their ASD-like phenotypes, but the directions of their NMDAR dysfunctions remain to be experimentally determined.

ASD models with data showing rescue of ASD-like behaviors but no demonstrated NMDAR dysfunction

Tbr1 is a transcriptional regulator, one of whose targets is the gene encoding the GluN2B subunit of NMDARs. Mice haploinsufficient for Tbr1 (Tbr1+/-) show structural abnormalities in the amygdala and limited GluN2B induction upon behavioral stimulation. Both systemic injection and local amygdalar infusion of DCS rescue social deficits and impaired associative memory in Tbr1+/- mice. However, reduced NMDAR function and its DCS-dependent correction have not been demonstrated.

Spatial working memory and attention skills are predicted by maternal stress during pregnancy

André Plamondon, Emis Akbari, Leslie Atkinson, Meir Steiner
Early Human Development 91 (2015) 23–29

Introduction: Experimental evidence in rodents shows that maternal stress during pregnancy (MSDP) negatively impacts spatial learning and memory in the offspring. We aim to investigate the association between MSDP (i.e., life events) and spatial working memory, as well as attention skills (attention shifting and attention focusing), in humans. The moderating roles of child sex, maternal anxiety during pregnancy and postnatal care are also investigated.  Methods: Participants were 236mother–child dyads that were followed from the second trimester of pregnancy until 4 years postpartum. Measurements included questionnaires and independent observations.
Results: MSDP was negatively associated with attention shifting at 18monthswhen concurrent maternal anxiety was low. MSDP was associated with poorer spatial working memory at 4 years of age, but only for boys who experienced poorer postnatal care.
Conclusion: Consistent with results observed in rodents, MSDP was found to be associated with spatial working memory and attention skills. These results point to postnatal care and maternal anxiety during pregnancy as potential targets for interventions that aim to buffer children from the detrimental effects of MSDP.

Acute and massive bleeding from placenta previa and infants’ brain damage

Ken Furuta, Shuichi Tokunaga, Seishi Furukawa, Hiroshi Sameshima
Early Human Development 90 (2014) 455–458

Background: Among the causes of third trimester bleeding, the impact of placenta previa on cerebral palsy is not well known.
Aims: To clarify the effect ofmaternal bleeding fromplacenta previa on cerebral palsy, and in particular when and how it occurs.
Study design: A descriptive study.
Subjects: Sixty infants born to mothers with placenta previa in our regional population-based study of 160,000 deliveries from 1998 to 2012. Premature deliveries occurring atb26 weeks of gestation and placenta accrete were excluded.
Outcome measures: Prevalence of cystic periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) and cerebral palsy (CP).
Results: Five infants had PVL and 4 of these infants developed CP (1/40,000 deliveries). Acute and massive bleeding (>500 g) within 8 h) occurred at around 30–31 weeks of gestation, and was severe enough to deliver the fetus. None of the 5 infants with PVL underwent antenatal corticosteroid treatment, and 1 infant had mild neonatal hypocapnia with a PaCO2 < 25 mm Hg. However, none of the 5 PVL infants showed umbilical arterial academia with pH < 7.2, an abnormal fetal heart rate monitoring pattern, or neonatal hypotension.
Conclusions: Our descriptive study showed that acute and massive bleeding from placenta previa at around 30 weeks of gestation may be a risk factor for CP, and requires careful neonatal follow-up. The underlying process connecting massive placental bleeding and PVL requires further investigation.

Impact of bilirubin-induced neurologic dysfunction on neurodevelopmental outcomes

Courtney J. Wusthoff, Irene M. Loe
Seminars in Fetal & Neonatal Medicine 20 (2015) 52e57

Extreme neonatal hyperbilirubinemia has long been known to cause the clinical syndrome of kernicterus, or chronic bilirubin encephalopathy (CBE). Kernicterus most usually is characterized by choreoathetoid cerebral palsy (CP), impaired upward gaze, and sensorineural hearing loss, whereas cognition is relatively spared. The chronic condition of kernicterus may be, but is not always, preceded in the acute stage by acute bilirubin encephalopathy (ABE). This acute neonatal condition is also due to hyperbilirubinemia, and is characterized by lethargy and abnormal behavior, evolving to frank neonatal encephalopathy, opisthotonus, and seizures. Less completely defined is the syndrome of bilirubin-induced neurologic dysfunction (BIND).

Bilirubin-induced neurologic dysfunction (BIND) is the constellation of neurologic sequelae following milder degrees of neonatal hyperbilirubinemia than are associated with kernicterus. Clinically, BIND may manifest after the neonatal period as developmental delay, cognitive impairment, disordered executive function, and behavioral and psychiatric disorders. However, there is controversy regarding the relative contribution of neonatal hyperbilirubinemia versus other risk factors to the development of later neurodevelopmental disorders in children with BIND. In this review, we focus on the empiric data from the past 25 years regarding neurodevelopmental outcomes and BIND, including specific effects on developmental delay, cognition, speech and language development, executive function, and the neurobehavioral disorders, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism.

As noted in a technical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics Subcommittee on Hyperbilirubinemia, “it is apparent that the use of a single total serum bilirubin level to predict long-term outcomes is inadequate and will lead to conflicting results”. As described above, this has certainly been the case in research to date. To clarify how hyperbilirubinemia influences neurodevelopmental outcome, more sophisticated consideration is needed both of how to assess bilirubin exposure leading to neurotoxicity, and of those comorbid conditions which may lower the threshold for brain injury.

For example, premature infants are known to be especially susceptible to bilirubin neurotoxicity, with kernicterus reported following TB levels far lower than the threshold expected in term neonates. Similarly, among extremely preterm neonates, BBC is proportional to gestational age, meaning that the most premature infants have the highest UB, even for similar TB levels. Thus, future studies must be adequately powered to examine preterm infants separately from term infants, and should consider not just peak TB, but also BBC, as independent variables in neonates with hyperbilirubinemia. Similarly, an analysis by the NICHD NRN found that, among ELBW infants, higher UB levels were associated with a higher risk of death or NDI. However, increased TB levels were only associated with death or NDI in unstable infants. Again, UB or BBC appeared to be more useful than TB.

Are the neuromotor disabilities of bilirubin-induced neurologic dysfunction disorders related to the cerebellum and its connections?

Jon F. Watchko, Michael J. Painter, Ashok Panigrahy
Seminars in Fetal & Neonatal Medicine 20 (2015) 47e51

Investigators have hypothesized a range of subcortical neuropathology in the genesis of bilirubin induced neurologic dysfunction (BIND). The current review builds on this speculation with a specific focus on the cerebellum and its connections in the development of the subtle neuromotor disabilities of BIND. The focus on the cerebellum derives from the following observations:
(i) the cerebellum is vulnerable to bilirubin-induced injury; perhaps the most vulnerable region within the central nervous system;
(ii) infants with cerebellar injury exhibit a neuromotor phenotype similar to BIND; and                                                       (iii) the cerebellum has extensive bidirectional circuitry projections to motor and non-motor regions of the brain-stem and cerebral cortex that impact a variety of neurobehaviors.
Future study using advanced magnetic resonance neuroimaging techniques have the potential to shed new insights into bilirubin’s effect on neural network topology via both structural and functional brain connectivity measurements.

Bilirubin-induced neurologic damage is most often thought of in terms of severe adverse neuromotor (dystonia with or without athetosis) and auditory (hearing impairment or deafness) sequelae. Observed together, they comprise the classic neurodevelopmental phenotype of chronic bilirubin encephalopathy or kernicterus, and may also be seen individually as motor or auditory predominant subtypes. These injuries reflect both a predilection of bilirubin toxicity for neurons (relative to glial cells) and the regional topography of bilirubin-induced neuronal damage characterized by prominent involvement of the globus pallidus, subthalamic nucleus, VIII cranial nerve, and cochlear nucleus.

It is also asserted that bilirubin neurotoxicity may be associated with other less severe neurodevelopmental disabilities, a condition termed “subtle kernicterus” or “bilirubin-induced neurologic dysfunction” (BIND). BIND is defined by a constellation of “subtle neurodevelopmental disabilities without the classical findings of kernicterus that, after careful evaluation and exclusion of other possible etiologies, appear to be due to bilirubin neurotoxicity”. These purportedly include:

(i) mild-to-moderate disorders of movement (e.g., incoordination, clumsiness, gait abnormalities, disturbances in static and dynamic balance, impaired fine motor skills, and ataxia);                                                                                             (ii) disturbances in muscle tone; and
(iii) altered sensorimotor integration. Isolated disturbances of central auditory processing are also included in the spectrum of BIND.

  • Cerebellar vulnerability to bilirubin-induced injury
  • Cerebellar injury phenotypes and BIND
  • Cerebellar projections
Transverse section of cerebellum and brainstem

Transverse section of cerebellum and brainstem

Transverse section of cerebellum and brain-stem from a 34 gestational-week premature kernicteric infant formalin-fixed for two weeks. Yellow staining is evident in the cerebellar dentate nuclei (upper arrow) and vestibular nuclei at the pontomedullary junction (lower arrowhead). Photo is courtesy of Mahmdouha Ahdab-Barmada and reprinted with permission from Taylor-Francis Group (Ahdab Barmada M. The neuropathology of kernicterus: definitions and debate. In: Maisel MJ, Watchko JF editors. Neonatal jaundice. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers; 2000. p. 75e88

Whether cerebellar injury is primal or an integral part of disturbed neural circuitry in bilirubin-induced CNS damage is unclear. Movement disorders, however, are increasingly recognized to arise from abnormalities of neuronal circuitry rather than localized, circumscribed lesions. The cerebellum has extensive bidirectional circuitry projections to an array of brainstem nuclei and the cerebral cortex that modulate and refine motor activities. In this regard, the cerebellum is characteristically subdivided into three lobes based on neuroanatomic and phylogenetic criteria as well as by their primary afferent and efferent connections. They include:
(i) flocculonodular lobe (archicerebellum);
(ii) anterior lobe (paleocerebellum); and
(iii) posterior lobe (neocerebellum).

The archicerebellum, the oldest division phylogenically, receives extensive input from the vestibular system and is therefore also known as the vestibulocerebellum and is important for equilibrium control. The paleocerebellum, also a primitive region, receives extensive somatosensory input from the spinal cord, including the anterior and posterior spinocerebellar pathways that convey unconscious proprioception, and is therefore also known as the spinocerebellum. The neocerebellum is the most recently evolved region, receives most of the input from the cerebral cortex, and is thus termed the cerebrocerebellum. This area has greatly expanded in association with the extensive development of the cerebral cortex in mammals and especially primates. To cause serious longstanding dysfunction, cerebellar injury must typically involve the deep cerebellar nuclei and their projections.

Schematic of the bidirectional connectivity between the cerebellum and other

Schematic of the bidirectional connectivity between the cerebellum and other

Schematic of the bidirectional connectivity between the cerebellum and other brain regions including the cerebral cortex. Most cerebro-cerebellar afferent projections pass through the basal (anterior or ventral) pontine nuclei and intermediate cerebellar peduncle, whereas most cerebello-cerebral efferent projections pass through the dentate and ventrolateral thalamic nuclei. DCN, deep cerebellar nuclei; RN, red nucleus; ATN, anterior thalamic nucleus; PFC, prefrontal cortex; MC, motor cortex; PC, parietal cortex; TC, temporal cortex; STN, subthalamic nucleus; APN, anterior pontine nuclei. Reprinted under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License from D’Angelo E, Casali S. Seeking a unified framework for cerebellar function and dysfunction: from circuit to cognition. Front Neural Circuits 2013; 6:116.

Given the vulnerability of the cerebellum to bilirubin-induced injury, cerebellar involvement should also be evident in classic kernicterus, contributing to neuromotor deficits observed therein. It is of interest, therefore, that cerebellar damage may play a role in the genesis of bilirubin-induced dystonia, a prominent neuromotor feature of chronic bilirubin encephalopathy in preterm and term neonates alike. This complex movement disorder is characterized by involuntary sustained muscle contractions that result in abnormal position and posture. Moreover, dystonia that is brief in duration results in chorea, and, if brief and repetitive, leads to athetosis ‒ conditions also classically observed in kernicterus. Recent evidence suggests that dystonic movements may depend on disruption of both basal ganglia and cerebellar neuronal networks, rather than isolated dysfunction of only one motor system.

Dystonia is also a prominent feature in Gunn rat pups and neonatal Ugt1‒/‒-deficient mice both robust models of kernicterus. The former is used as an experimental model of dystonia. Although these models show basal ganglia injury, the sine qua non of bilirubin-induced murine neuropathology is cerebellar damage and resultant cerebellar hypoplasia.

Studies are needed to define more precisely the motor network abnormalities in kernicterus and BIND. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been widely used in evaluating infants at risk for bilirubin-induced brain injury using conventional structural T1-and T2-weighted imaging. Infants with chronic bilirubin encephalopathy often demonstrate abnormal bilateral, symmetric, high-signal intensity on T2-weighted MRI of the globus pallidus and subthalamic nucleus, consistent with the neuropathology of kernicterus. Early postnatal MRI of at-risk infants, although frequently showing increased T1-signal in these regions, may give false-positive findings due to the presence of myelin in these structures.

Diffusion tensor imaging and tractography could be used to delineate long-term changes involving specific white matter pathways, further elucidating the neural basis of long-term disability in infants and children with chronic bilirubin encephalopathy and BIND. It will be equally valuable to use blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) “resting state” functional MRI to study intrinsic connectivity in order to identify vulnerable brain networks in neonates with kernicterus and BIND. Structural networks of the CNS (connectome) and functional network topology can be characterized in infants with kernicterus and BIND to determine disease-related pattern(s) with respect to both long- and short-range connectivity. These findings have the potential to shed novel insights into the pathogenesis of these disorders and their impact on complex anatomical connections and resultant functional deficits.

Audiologic impairment associated with bilirubin-induced neurologic damage

Cristen Olds, John S. Oghalai
Seminars in Fetal & Neonatal Medicine 20 (2015) 42e46

Hyperbilirubinemia affects up to 84% of term and late preterm infants in the first week of life. The elevation of total serum/plasma bilirubin (TB) levels is generally mild, transitory, and, for most children, inconsequential. However, a subset of infants experiences lifelong neurological sequelae. Although the prevalence of classic kernicterus has fallen steadily in the USA in recent years, the incidence of jaundice in term and premature infants has increased, and kernicterus remains a significant problem in the global arena. Bilirubin-induced neurologic dysfunction (BIND) is a spectrum of neurological injury due to acute or sustained exposure of the central nervous system(CNS) to bilirubin. The BIND spectrum includes kernicterus, acute bilirubin encephalopathy, and isolated neural pathway dysfunction.

Animal studies have shown that unconjugated bilirubin passively diffuses across cell membranes and the blood‒brain barrier (BBB), and bilirubin not removed by organic anion efflux pumps accumulates within the cytoplasm and becomes toxic. Exposure of neurons to bilirubin results in increased oxidative stress and decreased neuronal proliferation and presynaptic neuro-degeneration at central glutaminergic synapses. Furthermore, bilirubin administration results in smaller spiral ganglion cell bodies, with decreased cellular density and selective loss of large cranial nerve VIII myelinated fibers. When exposed to bilirubin, neuronal supporting cells have been found to secrete inflammatory markers, which contribute to increased BBB permeability and bilirubin loading.

The jaundiced Gunn rat is the classic animal model of bilirubin toxicity. It is homozygous for a premature stop codon within the gene for UDP-glucuronosyltransferase family 1 (UGT1). The resultant gene product has reduced bilirubin-conjugating activity, leading to a state of hyperbilirubinemia. Studies with this rat model have led to the concept that impaired calcium homeostasis is an important mechanism of neuronal toxicity, with reduced expression of calcium-binding proteins in affected cells being a sensitive index of bilirubin-induced neurotoxicity. Similarly, application of bilirubin to cultured auditory neurons from brainstem cochlear nuclei results in hyperexcitability and excitotoxicity.

The auditory pathway and normal auditory brainstem response (ABR).

The auditory pathway and normal auditory brainstem response (ABR).

The auditory pathway and normal auditory brain-stem response (ABR). The ipsilateral (green) and contralateral (blue) auditory pathways are shown, with structures that are known to be affected by hyperbilirubinemia highlighted in red. Roman numerals in parentheses indicate corresponding waves in the normal human ABR (inset). Illustration adapted from the “Ear Anatomy” series by Robert Jackler and Christine Gralapp, with permission.

Bilirubin-induced neurologic dysfunction (BIND)

Vinod K. Bhutani, Ronald Wong
Seminars in Fetal & Neonatal Medicine 20 (2015) 1

Beyond the traditional recognized areas of fulminant injury to the globus pallidus as seen in infants with kernicterus, other vulnerable areas include the cerebellum, hippocampus, and subthalamic nuclear bodies as well as certain cranial nerves. The hippocampus is a brain region that is particularly affected by age related morphological changes. It is generally assumed that a loss in hippocampal volume results in functional deficits that contribute to age-related cognitive deficits. Lower grey matter volumes within the limbic-striato-thalamic circuitry are common to other etiological mechanisms of subtle neurologic injury. Lower grey matter volumes in the amygdala, caudate, frontal and medial gyrus are found in schizophrenia and in the putamen in autism. Thus, in terms of brain volumetrics, schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders have a clear degree of overlap that may reflect shared etiological mechanisms. Overlap with injuries observed in infants with BIND raises the question about how these lesions are arrived at in the context of the impact of common etiologies.

Stress-induced perinatal and transgenerational epigenetic programming of brain development and mental health

Olena Babenko, Igor Kovalchuk, Gerlinde A.S. Metz
Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 48 (2015) 70–91

Research efforts during the past decades have provided intriguing evidence suggesting that stressful experiences during pregnancy exert long-term consequences on the future mental wellbeing of both the mother and her baby. Recent human epidemiological and animal studies indicate that stressful experiences in utero or during early life may increase the risk of neurological and psychiatric disorders, arguably via altered epigenetic regulation. Epigenetic mechanisms, such as miRNA expression, DNA methylation, and histone modifications are prone to changes in response to stressful experiences and hostile environmental factors. Altered epigenetic regulation may potentially influence fetal endocrine programming and brain development across several generations. Only recently, however, more attention has been paid to possible transgenerational effects of stress. In this review we discuss the evidence of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of stress exposure in human studies and animal models. We highlight the complex interplay between prenatal stress exposure, associated changes in miRNA expression and DNA methylation in placenta and brain and possible links to greater risks of schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety- or depression-related disorders later in life. Based on existing evidence, we propose that prenatal stress, through the generation of epigenetic alterations, becomes one of the most powerful influences on mental health in later life. The consideration of ancestral and prenatal stress effects on lifetime health trajectories is critical for improving strategies that support healthy development and successful aging.

Sensitive time-windows for susceptibility in neurodevelopmental disorders

Rhiannon M. Meredith, Julia Dawitz and Ioannis Kramvis
Trends in Neurosciences, June 2012; 35(6): 335-344

Many neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) are characterized by age-dependent symptom onset and regression, particularly during early postnatal periods of life. The neurobiological mechanisms preceding and underlying these developmental cognitive and behavioral impairments are, however, not clearly understood. Recent evidence using animal models for monogenic NDDs demonstrates the existence of time-regulated windows of neuronal and synaptic impairments. We propose that these developmentally-dependent impairments can be unified into a key concept: namely, time-restricted windows for impaired synaptic phenotypes exist in NDDs, akin to critical periods during normal sensory development in the brain. Existence of sensitive time-windows has significant implications for our understanding of early brain development underlying NDDs and may indicate vulnerable periods when the brain is more susceptible to current therapeutic treatments.

Fig (not shown)

Misregulated mechanisms underlying spine morphology in NDDs. Several proteins implicated in monogenic NDDs (highlighted in red) are linked to the regulation of the synaptic cytoskeleton via F-actin through different Rho-mediated signaling pathways (highlighted in green). Mutations in OPHN1, TSC1/2, FMRP, p21-activated kinase (PAK) are directly linked to human NDDs of intellectual disability. For instance, point mutations in OPHN1 and a PAK isoform are linked to non-syndromic mental retardation, whereas mutations or altered expression of TSC1/2 and FMRP are linked to TSC and FXS, respectively. Cytoplasmic interacting protein (CYFIP) and LIM-domain kinase 1 (LIMK1) are known to interact with FMRP and PAK, respectively [105]. LIMK1 is one of many dysregulated proteins contributing to the NDD Williams syndrome. Mouse models are available for all highlighted (red) proteins and reveal specific synaptic and behavioral deficits. Local protein synthesis in synapses, dendrites and glia is also regulated by proteins such as TSC1/2 and the FMRP/CYFIP complex. Abbreviations: 4EBP, 4E binding protein; eIF4E, eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E.

Fig (not shown)

Sensitive time-windows, synaptic phenotypes and NDD gene targets. Sensitive time-windows exist in neural circuits, during which gene targets implicated in NDDs are normally expressed. Misregulation of these genes can affect multiple synaptic phenotypes during a restricted developmental period. The effect upon synaptic phenotypes is dependent upon the temporal expression of these NDD genes and their targets. (a) Expression outside a critical period of development will have no effect upon synaptic phenotypes. (b,c) A temporal expression pattern that overlaps with the onset (b) or closure (c) of a known critical period can alter the synaptic phenotype during that developmental time-window.

Outstanding questions

(1) Can treatment at early presymptomatic stages in animal models for NDDs prevent or ease the later synaptic, neuronal, and behavioral impairments?

(2) Are all sensory critical periods equally misregulated in mouse models for a specific NDD? Are there different susceptibilities for auditory, visual and somatosensory neurocircuits that reflect the degree of impairments observed in patients?

(3) If one critical period is missed or delayed during formation of a layer-specific connection in a network, does the network overcome this misregulated connectivity or plasticity window?

(4) In monogenic NDDs, does the severity of misregulating one particular time-window for synaptic establishment during development correlate with the importance of that gene for that synaptic circuit?

(5) Why do critical periods close in brain development?

(6) What underlies the regression of some altered synaptic phenotypes in Fmr1-KO mice?

(7) Can the concept of susceptible time-windows be applied to other NDDs, including schizophrenia and Tourette’s syndrome?


Cardiac output monitoring in newborns

Willem-Pieter de Boode
Early Human Development 86 (2010) 143–148

There is an increased interest in methods of objective cardiac output measurement in critically ill patients. Several techniques are available for measurement of cardiac output in children, although this remains very complex in newborns. Cardiac output monitoring could provide essential information to guide hemodynamic management. An overview is given of various methods of cardiac output monitoring with advantages and major limitations of each technology together with a short explanation of the basic principles.

Fick principle

According to the Fick principle the volume of blood flow in a given period equals the amount of substance entering the blood stream in the same period divided by the difference in concentrations of the substrate upstream respectively downstream to the point of entry in the circulation. This substance can be oxygen (O2-Fick) or carbon dioxide (CO2-FICK), so cardiac output can be calculated by dividing measured pulmonary oxygen uptake by the arteriovenous oxygen concentration difference. The direct O2-Fick method is regarded as gold standard in cardiac output monitoring in a research setting, despite its limitations. When the Fick principle is applied for carbon dioxide (CO2 Fick), the pulmonary carbon dioxide exchange is divided by the venoarterial CO2 concentration difference to calculate cardiac output.

In the modified CO2 Fick method pulmonary CO2 exchange is measured at the endotracheal tube. Measurement of total CO2 concentration in blood is more complex and simultaneous sampling of arterial and central venous blood is required. However, frequent blood sampling will result in an unacceptable blood loss in the neonatal population.

Blood flow can be calculated if the change in concentration of a known quantity of injected indicator is measured in time distal to the point of injection, so an indicator dilution curve can be obtained. Cardiac output can then be calculated with the use of the Stewart–Hamilton equation. Several indicators are used, such as indocyanine green, Evans blue and brilliant red in dye dilution, cold solutions in thermodilution, lithium in lithium dilution, and isotonic saline in ultrasound dilution.

Cardiovascular adaptation to extra uterine life

Alice Lawford, Robert MR Tulloh
Paediatrics And Child Health 2014; 25(1): 1-6.

The adaptation to extra uterine life is of interest because of its complexity and the ability to cause significant health concerns. In this article we describe the normal changes that occur and the commoner abnormalities that are due to failure of normal development and the effect of congenital cardiac disease. Abnormal development may occur as a result of problems with the mother, or with the fetus before birth. After birth it is essential to determine whether there is an underlying abnormality of the fetal pulmonary or cardiac development and to determine the best course of management of pulmonary hypertension or congenital cardiac disease. Causes of underdevelopment, maldevelopment and maladaptation are described as are the causes of critical congenital heart disease. The methods of diagnosis and management are described to allow the neonatologist to successfully manage such newborns.

Fetal vascular structures that exist to direct blood flow

Fetal structure Function
Arterial duct Connects pulmonary artery to the aorta and shunts blood right to left; diverting flow away from fetal lungs
Foramen ovale Opening between the two atria thatdirects blood flow returning to right

atrium through the septal wall into the left atrium bypassing lungs

Ductus venosus Receives oxygenated blood fromumbilical vein and directs it to the

inferior vena cava and right atrium

Umbilical arteries Carrying deoxygenated blood fromthe fetus to the placenta
Umbilical vein Carrying oxygenated blood from theplacenta to the fetus

Maternal causes of congenital heart disease

Maternal disorders rubella, SLE, diabetes mellitus
Maternal drug use Warfarin, alcohol
Chromosomal abnormality Down, Edward, Patau, Turner, William, Noonan


Fetal and Neonatal Circulation  The fetal circulation is specifically adapted to efficiently exchange gases, nutrients, and wastes through placental circulation. Upon birth, the shunts (foramen ovale, ductus arteriosus, and ductus venosus) close and the placental circulation is disrupted, producing the series circulation of blood through the lungs, left atrium, left ventricle, systemic circulation, right heart, and back to the lungs.

Clinical monitoring of systemic hemodynamics in critically ill newborns

Willem-Pieter de Boode
Early Human Development 86 (2010) 137–141

Circulatory failure is a major cause of mortality and morbidity in critically ill newborn infants. Since objective measurement of systemic blood flow remains very challenging, neonatal hemodynamics is usually assessed by the interpretation of various clinical and biochemical parameters. An overview is given about the predictive value of the most used indicators of circulatory failure, which are blood pressure, heart rate, urine output, capillary refill time, serum lactate concentration, central–peripheral temperature difference, pH, standard base excess, central venous oxygen saturation and color.

Key guidelines

➢ The clinical assessment of cardiac output by the interpretation of indirect parameters of systemic blood flow is inaccurate, irrespective of the level of experience of the clinician

➢ Using blood pressure to diagnose low systemic blood flow will consequently mean that too many patients will potentially be undertreated or overtreated, both with substantial risk of adverse effects and iatrogenic damage.

➢ Combining different clinical hemodynamic parameters enhances the predictive value in the detection of circulatory failure, although accuracy is still limited.

➢ Variation in time (trend monitoring) might possibly be more informative than individual, static values of clinical and biochemical parameters to evaluate the adequacy of neonatal circulation.

Monitoring oxygen saturation and heart rate in the early neonatal period

J.A. Dawson, C.J. Morley
Seminars in Fetal & Neonatal Medicine 15 (2010) 203e207

Pulse oximetry is commonly used to assist clinicians in assessment and management of newly born infants in the delivery room (DR). In many DRs, pulse oximetry is now the standard of care for managing high risk infants, enabling immediate and dynamic assessment of oxygenation and heart rate. However, there is little evidence that using pulse oximetry in the DR improves short and long term outcomes. We review the current literature on using pulse oximetry to measure oxygen saturation and heart rate and how to apply current evidence to management in the DR.

Practice points

  • Understand how SpO2 changes in the first minutes after birth.
  • Apply a sensor to an infant’s right wrist as soon as possible after birth.
  • Attach sensor to infant then to oximeter cable.
  • Use two second averaging and maximum sensitivity.

Using pulse oximetry assists clinicians:

  1. Assess changes in HR in real time during transition.
  2. Assess oxygenation and titrate the administration of oxygen to maintain oxygenation within the appropriate range for SpO2 during the first minutes after birth.

Research directions

  • What are the appropriate centiles to target during the minutes after birth to prevent hypoxia and hyperoxia: 25th to 75th, or 10th to 90th, or just the 50th (median)?
  • Can the inspired oxygen be titrated against the SpO2 to keep the SpO2 in the ‘normal range’?
  • Does the use of centile charts in the DR for HR and oxygen saturation reduce the rate of hyperoxia when infants are treated with oxygen.
  • Does the use of pulse oximetry immediately after birth improve short term outcomes, e.g. efficacy of immediate respiratory support, intubation rates in the DR, percentage of inspired oxygen, rate of use of adrenalin or chest compressions, duration of hypoxia/hyperoxia and bradycardia.
  • Does the use of pulse oximetry in the DR improve short term respiratory and long term neurodevelopmental outcomes for preterm infants, e.g. rate of intubation, use of surfactant, and duration of ventilation, continuous positive airway pressure, or supplemental oxygen?
  • Can all modern pulse oximeters be used effectively in the DR or do some have a longer delay before giving an accurate signal and more movement artefact?
  • Would a longer averaging time result in more stable data?

Peripheral haemodynamics in newborns: Best practice guidelines

Michael Weindling, Fauzia Paize
Early Human Development 86 (2010) 159–165

Peripheral hemodynamics refers to blood flow, which determines oxygen and nutrient delivery to the tissues. Peripheral blood flow is affected by vascular resistance and blood pressure, which in turn varies with cardiac function. Arterial oxygen content depends on the blood hemoglobin concentration (Hb) and arterial pO2; tissue oxygen delivery depends on the position of the oxygen-dissociation curve, which is determined by temperature and the amount of adult or fetal hemoglobin. Methods available to study tissue perfusion include near-infrared spectroscopy, Doppler flowmetry, orthogonal polarization spectral imaging and the peripheral perfusion index. Cardiac function, blood gases, Hb, and peripheral temperature all affect blood flow and oxygen extraction. Blood pressure appears to be less important. Other factors likely to play a role are the administration of vasoactive medications and ventilation strategies, which affect blood gases and cardiac output by changing the intrathoracic pressure.


NIRS with partial venous occlusion to measure venous oxygen saturation

NIRS with partial venous occlusion to measure venous oxygen saturation

NIRS with partial venous occlusion to measure venous oxygen saturation. Taken from Yoxall and Weindling

Schematic representation of the biphasic relationship between oxygen delivery and oxygen consumption in tissue

Schematic representation of the biphasic relationship between oxygen delivery and oxygen consumption in tissue


Schematic representation of the biphasic relationship between oxygen delivery and oxygen consumption in tissue.  (a) oxygen delivery (DO2). (b) As DO2 decreases, VO2 is dependent on DO2. The slope of the line indicates the FOE, which in this case is about 0.50. (c) The slope of the line indicates the FOE in the normal situation where oxygenation is DO2 independent, usually < 0.35

The oxygen-dissociation curve

The oxygen-dissociation curve


The oxygen-dissociation curve

Considerable information about the response of the peripheral circulation has been obtained using NIRS with venous occlusion. Although these measurements were validated against blood co-oximetry in human adults and infants, they can only be made intermittently by a trained operator and are thus not appropriate for general clinical use. Further research is needed to find other better measures of peripheral perfusion and oxygenation which may be easily and continuously monitored, and which could be useful in a clinical setting.

Peripheral oxygenation and management in the perinatal period

Michael Weindling
Seminars in Fetal & Neonatal Medicine 15 (2010) 208e215

The mechanisms for the adequate provision of oxygen to the peripheral tissues are complex. They involve control of the microcirculation and peripheral blood flow, the position of the oxygen dissociation curve including the proportion of fetal and adult hemoglobin, blood gases and viscosity. Systemic blood pressure appears to have little effect, at least in the non-shocked state. The adequate delivery of oxygen (DO2) depends on consumption (VO2), which is variable. The balance between VO2 and DO2 is given by fractional oxygen extraction (FOE ¼ VO2/DO2). FOE varies from organ to organ and with levels of activity. Measurements of FOE for the whole body produce a range of about 0.15-0.33, i.e. the body consumes 15-33% of oxygen transported.

Fig (not shown)

Biphasic relationship between oxygen delivery (DO2) and oxygen consumption (VO2) in tissue. Dotted lines show fractional oxygen extraction (FOE). ‘A’ indicates the normal situation when VO2 is independent ofDO2 and FOE is about 0.30. AsDO2 decreases in the direction of the arrow, VO2 remains independent of DO2 until the critical point is reached at ‘B’; in this illustration, FOE is about 0.50. The slope of the dotted line indicates the FOE (¼ VO2/DO2), which increases progressively as DO2 decreases.

Relationship between haemoglobin F fraction (HbF) and peripheral fractional oxygen extraction

Relationship between haemoglobin F fraction (HbF) and peripheral fractional oxygen extraction

(A)Relationship between haemoglobin F fraction (HbF) and peripheral fractional oxygen extraction in anaemic and control infants. (From Wardle et al.)  (B) HbF synthesis and concentration. (From Bard and Widness.) (C) Oxygen dissociation curve.

Peripheral fractional oxygen extraction in babies

Peripheral fractional oxygen extraction in babies


Peripheral fractional oxygen extraction in babies with asymptomatic or symptomatic anemia compared to controls. Bars represent the median for each group. (From Wardle et al.)

Practice points

  • Peripheral tissue DO2 is complex: cardiac function, blood gases, Hb concentration and the proportion of HbF, and peripheral temperature all play a part in determining blood flow and oxygen extraction in the sick, preterm infant. Blood pressure appears to be less important.
  • Other factors likely to play a role are the administration of vasoactive medications and ventilation strategies, which affect blood gases and cardiac output by changing intrathoracic pressure.
  • Central blood pressure is a poor surrogate measurement for the adequacy of DO2 to the periphery. Direct measurement, using NIRS, laser Doppler flowmetry or other means, may give more useful information.
  • Reasons for total hemoglobin concentration (Hb) being a relatively poor indicator of the adequacy of the provision of oxygen to the tissues:
  1. Hb is only indirectly related to red blood cell volume, which may be a better indicator of the body’s oxygen delivering capacity.
  2. Hb-dependent oxygen availability depends on the position of the oxygen-hemoglobin dissociation curve.
  3. An individual’s oxygen requirements vary with time and from organ to organ. This means that DO2 also needs to vary.
  4. It is possible to compensate for a low Hb by increasing cardiac output and ventilation, and so the ability to compensate for anemia depends on an individual’s cardio-respiratory reserve as well as Hb.
  5. The normal decrease of Hb during the first few weeks of life in both full-term and preterm babies usually occurs without symptoms or signs of anemia or clinical consequences.

The relationship between VO2 and DO2 is complex and various factors need to be taken into account, including the position of the oxygen dissociation curve, determined by the proportion of HbA and HbF, temperature and pH. Furthermore, diffusion of oxygen from capillaries to the cell depends on the oxygen tension gradient between erythrocytes and the mitochondria, which depends on microcirculatory conditions, e.g. capillary PO2, distance of the cell from the capillary (characterized by intercapillary distances) and the surface area of open capillaries. The latter can change rapidly, for example, in septic shock where arteriovenous shunting occurs associated with tissue hypoxia in spite of high DO2 and a low FOE.

Changes in local temperature deserve particular consideration. When the blood pressure is low, there may be peripheral vasoconstriction with decreased local perfusion and DO2. However, the fall in local tissue temperature would also be expected to be associated with a decreased metabolic rate and a consequent decrease in VO2. Thus a decreased DO2 may still be appropriate for tissue needs.


Accurate Measurements of Oxygen Saturation in Neonates: Paired Arterial and Venous Blood Analyses

Shyang-Yun Pamela K. Shiao
Newborn and Infant Nurs Rev,  2005; 5(4): 170–178

Oxygen saturation (So2) measurements (functional measurement, So2; and fractional measurement, oxyhemoglobin [Hbo2]) and monitoring are commonly investigated as a method of assessing oxygenation in neonates. Differences exist between the So2 and Hbo2 when blood tests are performed, and clinical monitors indicate So2 values. Oxyhemoglobin will decrease with the increased levels of carbon monoxide hemoglobin (Hbco) and methemo-globin (MetHb), and it is the most accurate measurements of oxygen (O2) association of hemoglobin (Hb). Pulse oximeter (for pulse oximetry saturation [Spo2] measurement) is commonly used in neonates. However, it will not detect the changes of Hb variations in the blood for accurate So2 measurements. Thus, the measurements from clinical oximeters should be used with caution. In neonates, fetal hemoglobin (HbF) accounts for most of the circulating Hb in their blood. Fetal hemoglobin has a high O2 affinity, thus releases less O2 to the body tissues, presenting a left-shifted Hbo2 dissociation curve.5,6 To date, however, limited data are available with HbF correction, for accurate arterial and venous (AV) So2 measurements (arterial oxygen saturation [Sao2] and venous oxygen saturation [Svo2]) in neonates, using paired AV blood samples.

In a study of critically ill adult patients, increased pulmonary CO production and elevation in arterial Hbco but not venous Hbco were documented by inflammatory stimuli inducing pulmonary heme oxygenase–1. In normal adults, venous Hbco level might be slightly higher than or equal to arterial Hbco because of production of CO by enzyme heme oxygenase–2, which is predominantly produced in the liver and spleen. However, hypoxia or pulmonary inflammation could induce heme oxygenase–1 to increase endogenous CO, thus elevating pulmonary arterial and systemic arterial Hbco levels in adults. Both endogenous and exogenous CO can suppress proliferation of pulmonary smooth muscles, a significant consideration for the prevention of chronic lung diseases in newborns. Despite these considerations, a later study in healthy adults indicated that the AV differences in Hbco were from technical artifacts and perhaps from inadequate control of different instruments. Thus, further studies are needed to provide more definitive answers for the AV differences of Hbco for adults and neonates with acute and chronic lung diseases.

Methemoglobin is an indicator of Hb oxidation and is essential for accurate measurement of Hbo2, So2, and oxygenation status. No evidence exists to show the AV MetHb difference, although this difference was elucidated with the potential changes of MetHb with different O2 levels.  Methemoglobin can be increased with nitric oxide (NO) therapy, used in respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) to reduce pulmonary hypertension and during heart surgery. Nitric oxide, in vitro, is an oxidant of Hb, with increased O2 during ischemia reperfusion. In hypoxemic conditions in vivo, nitrohemoglobin is a product generated by vessel responsiveness to nitrovasodilators. Nitro-hemoglobin can be spontaneously reversible in vivo, requiring no chemical agents or reductase. However, when O2 levels were increased experimentally in vitro following acidic conditions (pH 6.5) to simulate reperfusion conditions, MetHb levels were increased for the hemolysates (broken red cells). Nitrite-induced oxidation of Hb was associated with an increase in red blood cell membrane rigidity, thus contributing to Hb breakdown. A newer in vitro study of whole blood cells, however, concluded that MetHb formation is not dependent on increased O2 levels. Additional studies are needed to examine in vivo reperfusion of O2 and MetHb effects.

Purpose: The aim of this study was to examine the accuracy of arterial oxygen saturation (Sao2) and venous oxygen saturation (Svo2) with paired arterial and venous (AV) blood in relation to pulse oximetry saturation (Spo2) and oxyhemoglobin (Hbo2) with fetal hemoglobin determination, and their Hbo2 dissociation curves. Method: Twelve preterm neonates with gestational ages ranging from 27 to 34 weeks at birth, who had umbilical AV lines inserted, were investigated. Analyses were performed with 37 pairs of AV blood samples by using a blood volume safety protocol. Results: The mean differences between Sao2 and Svo2, and AV Hbo2 were both 6 percent (F6.9 and F6.7 percent, respectively), with higher Svo2 than those reported for adults. Biases were 2.1 – 0.49 for Sao2, 2.0 – 0.44 for Svo2, and 3.1 – 0.45 for Spo2, compared against Hbo2. With left-shifted Hbo2 dissociation curves in neonates, for the critical values of oxygen tension values between 50 and 75 millimeters of mercury, Hbo2 ranged from 92 to 93.4 percent; Sao2 ranged from 94.5 to 95.7 percent; and Spo2 ranged from 93.7 to 96.3 percent (compared to 85–94 percent in healthy adults). Conclusions: In neonates, both left-shifted Hbo2 dissociation curve and lower AV differences of oxygen saturation measurements indicated low flow of oxygen to the body tissues. These findings demonstrate the importance of accurate assessment of oxygenation statues in neonates.

In these neonates, the mean AV blood differences for both So2 and Hbo2 were about 6 percent, which was much lower than those reported for healthy adults (23 percent) for O2 supply and demand. In addition, with very high levels of HbF releasing less O2 to the body tissue, the results of blood analyses are worrisome for these critically ill neonates for low systemic oxygen states.  O’Connor and Hall determined AV So2 in neonates without HbF determination. Much of the AV So2 difference is dependent on Svo2 measurement. The ranges of Svo2 spanned for 35 percent, and the ranges of Sao2 spanned 6 percent in these neonates. The greater intervals for Svo2 measurements contribute to greater sensitivity for the measurements (than Sao2 measurements) in responding to nursing care and changes of O2 demand. Thus, Svo2 measurement is essential for better assessment of oxygenation status in neonates.

The findings of this study on AV differences of So2 were limited with very small number of paired AV blood samples. However, critically ill neonates need accurate assessment of oxygenation status because of HbF, which releases less O2 to the tissues. Decreased differences of AV So2 measurements added further possibilities of lower flow of O2 to the body tissues and demonstrated the greater need to accurately assess the proper oxygenation in the neonates. The findings of this study continued to clarify the accuracy of So2 measurements for neonates. Additional studies are needed to examine So2 levels in neonates to further validate these findings by using larger sample sizes.

Neonatal ventilation strategies and long-term respiratory outcomes

Sandeep Shetty, Anne Greenough
Early Human Development 90 (2014) 735–739

Long-term respiratory morbidity is common, particularly in those born very prematurely and who have developed bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), but it does occur in those without BPD and in infants born at term. A variety of neonatal strategies have been developed, all with short-term advantages, but meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have demonstrated that only volume-targeted ventilation and prophylactic high-frequency oscillatory ventilation (HFOV) may reduce BPD. Few RCTs have incorporated long-term follow-up, but one has demonstrated that prophylactic HFOV improves respiratory and functional outcomes at school age, despite not reducing BPD. Results from other neonatal interventions have demonstrated that any impact on BPD may not translate into changes in long-term outcomes. All future neonatal  ventilation RCTs should have long-term outcomes rather than BPD as their primary outcome if they are to impact on clinical practice.

A Model Analysis of Arterial Oxygen Desaturation during Apnea in Preterm Infants

Scott A. Sands, BA Edwards, VJ Kelly, MR Davidson, MH Wilkinson, PJ Berger
PLoS Comput Biol 5(12): e1000588

Rapid arterial O2 desaturation during apnea in the preterm infant has obvious clinical implications but to date no adequate explanation for why it exists. Understanding the factors influencing the rate of arterial O2 desaturation during apnea (_SSaO2 ) is complicated by the non-linear O2 dissociation curve, falling pulmonary O2 uptake, and by the fact that O2 desaturation is biphasic, exhibiting a rapid phase (stage 1) followed by a slower phase when severe desaturation develops (stage 2). Using a mathematical model incorporating pulmonary uptake dynamics, we found that elevated metabolic O2 consumption accelerates _SSaO2 throughout the entire desaturation process. By contrast, the remaining factors have a restricted temporal influence: low pre-apneic alveolar PO2 causes an early onset of desaturation, but thereafter has little impact; reduced lung volume, hemoglobin content or cardiac output, accelerates _SSaO2 during stage 1, and finally, total blood O2 capacity (blood volume and hemoglobin content) alone determines _SSaO2 during stage 2. Preterm infants with elevated metabolic rate, respiratory depression, low lung volume, impaired cardiac reserve, anemia, or hypovolemia, are at risk for rapid and profound apneic hypoxemia. Our insights provide a basic physiological framework that may guide clinical interpretation and design of interventions for preventing sudden apneic hypoxemia.

A novel approach to study oxidative stress in neonatal respiratory distress syndrome

Reena Negi, D Pande, K Karki, A Kumar, RS Khanna, HD Khanna
BBA Clinical 3 (2015) 65–69

Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the systemic manifestation of reactive oxygen species and a biological system’s ability to readily detoxify the reactive intermediates or to repair the resulting damage. It is a physiological event in the fetal-to-neonatal transition, which is actually a great stress to the fetus. These physiological changes and processes greatly increase the production of free radicals, which must be controlled by the antioxidant defense system, the maturation of which follows the course of the gestation. This could lead to several functional alterations with important repercussions for the infants. Adequately mature and healthy infants are able to tolerate this drastic change in the oxygen concentration. A problem occurs when the intrauterine development is incomplete or abnormal. Preterm or intrauterine growth retarded (IUGR) and low birth weight neonates are typically of this kind. An oxidant/antioxidant imbalance in infants is implicated in the pathogenesis of the major complications of prematurity including respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), chronic lung disease, retinopathy of prematurity and intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH).

Background: Respiratory distress syndrome of the neonate (neonatal RDS) is still an important problem in treatment of preterm infants. It is accompanied by inflammatory processes with free radical generation and oxidative stress. The aim of study was to determine the role of oxidative stress in the development of neonatal RDS. Methods: Markers of oxidative stress and antioxidant activity in umbilical cord blood were studied in infants with neonatal respiratory distress syndrome with reference to healthy newborns. Results: Status of markers of oxidative stress (malondialdehyde, protein carbonyl and 8-hydroxy-2-deoxy guanosine) showed a significant increase with depleted levels of total antioxidant capacity in neonatal RDS when compared to healthy newborns. Conclusion: The study provides convincing evidence of oxidative damage and diminished antioxidant defenses in newborns with RDS. Neonatal RDS is characterized by damage of lipid, protein and DNA, which indicates the augmentation of oxidative stress. General significance: The identification of the potential biomarker of oxidative stress consists of a promising strategy to study the pathophysiology of neonatal RDS.

Neonatal respiratory distress syndrome represents the major lung complications of newborn babies. Preterm neonates suffer from respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) due to immature lungs and require assisted ventilation with high concentrations of oxygen. The pathogenesis of this disorder is based on the rapid formation of the oxygen reactive species, which surpasses the detoxification capacity of antioxidative defense system. The high chemical reactivity of free radical leads to damage to a variety of cellular macro molecules including proteins, lipids and nucleic acid. This results in cell injury and may induce respiratory cell death.

Malondialdehyde (MDA) is one of the final products of polyunsaturated fatty acids peroxidation. The present study showed increased concentration of MDA in neonates with respiratory disorders than that of control in consonance with the reported study.

Anemia, Apnea of Prematurity, and Blood Transfusions

Kelley Zagol, Douglas E. Lake, Brooke Vergales, Marion E. Moorman, et al
J Pediatr 2012;161:417-21

The etiology of apnea of prematurity is multifactorial; however, decreased oxygen carrying capacity may play a role. The respiratory neuronal network in neonates is immature, particularly in those born preterm, as demonstrated by their paradoxical response to hypoxemia. Although adults increase the minute ventilation in response to hypoxemia, newborns have a brief increase in ventilation followed by periodic breathing, respiratory depression, and occasionally cessation of respiratory effort. This phenomenon may be exacerbated by anemia in preterm newborns, where a decreased oxygen carrying capacity may result in decreased oxygen delivery to the central nervous system, a decreased efferent output of the respiratory neuronal network, and an increase in apnea.

Objective Compare the frequency and severity of apneic events in very low birth weight (VLBW) infants before and after blood transfusions using continuous electronic waveform analysis. Study design We continuously collected waveform, heart rate, and oxygen saturation data from patients in all 45 neonatal intensive care unit beds at the University of Virginia for 120 weeks. Central apneas were detected using continuous computer processing of chest impedance, electrocardiographic, and oximetry signals. Apnea was defined as respiratory pauses of >10, >20, and >30 seconds when accompanied by bradycardia (<100 beats per minute) and hypoxemia (<80% oxyhemoglobin saturation as detected by pulse oximetry). Times of packed red blood cell transfusions were determined from bedside charts. Two cohorts were analyzed. In the transfusion cohort, waveforms were analyzed for 3 days before and after the transfusion for all VLBW infants who received a blood transfusion while also breathing spontaneously. Mean apnea rates for the previous 12 hours were quantified and differences for 12 hours before and after transfusion were compared. In the hematocrit cohort, 1453 hematocrit values from all VLBW infants admitted and breathing spontaneously during the time period were retrieved, and the association of hematocrit and apnea in the next 12 hours was tested using logistic regression. Results Sixty-seven infants had 110 blood transfusions during times when complete monitoring data were available. Transfusion was associated with fewer computer-detected apneic events (P < .01). Probability of future apnea occurring within 12 hours increased with decreasing hematocrit values (P < .001). Conclusions Blood transfusions are associated with decreased apnea in VLBW infants, and apneas are less frequent at higher hematocrits.

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia: The earliest and perhaps the longest lasting obstructive lung disease in humans

Silvia Carraro, M Filippone, L Da Dalt, V Ferraro, M Maretti, S Bressan, et al.
Early Human Development 89 (2013) S3–S5

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) is one of the most important sequelae of premature birth and the most common form of chronic lung disease of infancy, an umbrella term for a number of different diseases that evolve as a consequence of a neonatal respiratory disorder. BPD is defined as the need for supplemental oxygen for at least 28 days after birth, and its severity is graded according to the respiratory support required at 36 post-menstrual weeks.

BPD was initially described as a chronic respiratory disease occurring in premature infants exposed to mechanical ventilation and oxygen supplementation. This respiratory disease (later named “old BPD”) occurred in relatively large premature newborn and, from a pathological standpoint, it was characterized by intense airway inflammation, disruption of normal pulmonary structures and lung fibrosis.

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) is one of the most important sequelae of premature birth and the most common form of chronic lung disease of infancy. From a clinical standpoint BPD subjects are characterized by recurrent respiratory symptoms, which are very frequent during the first years of life and, although becoming less severe as children grow up, they remain more common than in term-born controls throughout childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. From a functional point of view BPD subjects show a significant airflow limitation that persists during adolescence and adulthood and they may experience an earlier and steeper decline in lung function during adulthood. Interestingly, patients born prematurely but not developing BPD usually fare better, but they too have airflow limitations during childhood and later on, suggesting that also prematurity per se has life-long detrimental effects on pulmonary function. For the time being, little is known about the presence and nature of pathological mechanisms underlying the clinical and functional picture presented by BPD survivors. Nonetheless, recent data suggest the presence of persistent neutrophilic airway inflammation and oxidative stress and it has been suggested that BPD may be sustained in the long term by inflammatory pathogenic mechanisms similar to those underlying COPD. This hypothesis is intriguing but more pathological data are needed.  A better understanding of these pathogenetic mechanisms, in fact, may be able to orient the development of novel targeted therapies or prevention strategies to improve the overall respiratory health of BPD patients.

We have a limited understanding of the presence and nature of pathological mechanisms in the lung of BPD survivors. The possible role of asthma-like inflammation has been investigated because BPD subjects often present with recurrent wheezing and other symptoms resembling asthma during their childhood and adolescence. But BPD subjects have normal or lower than normal exhaled nitric oxide levels and exhaled air temperatures, whereas they are higher than normal in asthmatic patients.

Of all obstructive lung diseases in humans, BPD has the earliest onset and is possibly the longest lasting. Given its frequent association with other conditions related to preterm birth (e.g. growth retardation, pulmonary hypertension, neurodevelopmental delay, hearing defects, and retinopathy of prematurity), it often warrants a multidisciplinary management.

Effects of Sustained Lung Inflation, a lung recruitment maneuver in primary acute respiratory distress syndrome, in respiratory and cerebral outcomes in preterm infants

Chiara Grasso, Pietro Sciacca, Valentina Giacchi, Caterina Carpinato, et al.
Early Human Development 91 (2015) 71–75

Background: Sustained Lung Inflation (SLI) is a maneuver of lung recruitment in preterm newborns at birth that can facilitate the achieving of larger inflation volumes, leading to the clearance of lung fluid and formation of functional residual capacity (FRC). Aim: To investigate if Sustained Lung Inflation (SLI) reduces the need of invasive procedures and iatrogenic risks. Study design: 78 newborns (gestational age ≤ 34 weeks, weighing ≤ 2000 g) who didn’t breathe adequately at birth and needed to receive SLI in addition to other resuscitation maneuvers (2010 guidelines). Subjects: 78 preterm infants born one after the other in our department of Neonatology of Catania University from 2010 to 2012. Outcome measures: The need of intubation and surfactant, the ventilation required, radiological signs, the incidence of intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH), periventricular leukomalacia, retinopathy in prematurity from III to IV plus grades, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, patent ductus arteriosus, pneumothorax and necrotizing enterocolitis. Results: In the SLI group infants needed less intubation in the delivery room (6% vs 21%; p b 0.01), less invasive mechanical ventilation (14% vs 55%; p ≤ 0.001) and shorter duration of ventilation (9.1 days vs 13.8 days; p ≤ 0.001). There wasn’t any difference for nasal continuous positive airway pressure (82% vs 77%; p = 0.43); but there was less surfactant administration (54% vs 85%; p ≤ 0.001) and more infants received INSURE (40% vs 29%; p=0.17). We didn’t found any differences in the outcomes, except for more mild intraventricular hemorrhage in the SLI group (23% vs 14%; p = 0.15; OR= 1.83). Conclusion: SLI is easier to perform even with a single operator, it reduces the necessity of more complicated maneuvers and surfactant without statistically evident adverse effects.

Long-term respiratory consequences of premature birth at less than 32 weeks of gestation

Anne Greenough
Early Human Development 89 (2013) S25–S27

Chronic respiratory morbidity is a common adverse outcome of very premature birth, particularly in infants who had developed bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). Prematurely born infants who had BPD may require supplementary oxygen at home for many months and affected infants have increased healthcare utilization until school age. Chest radiograph abnormalities are common; computed tomography of the chest gives predictive information in children with ongoing respiratory problems. Readmission to hospital is common, particularly for those who have BPD and suffer respiratory syncytial virus lower respiratory infections (RSV LRTIs). Recurrent respiratory symptoms requiring treatment are common and are associated with evidence of airways obstruction and gas trapping. Pulmonary function improves with increasing age, but children with BPD may have ongoing airflow limitation. Lung function abnormalities may be more severe in those who had RSV LRTIs, although this may partly be explained by worse premorbid lung function. Worryingly, lung function may deteriorate during the first year. Longitudinal studies are required to determine if there is catch up growth.

Long-term pulmonary outcomes of patients with bronchopulmonary dysplasia

Anita Bhandari and Sharon McGrath-Morrow
Seminars in Perinatology 37 (2013)132–137

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) is the commonest cause of chronic lung disease in infancy. The incidence of BPD has remained unchanged despite many advances in neonatal care. BPD starts in the neonatal period but its effects can persist long term. Premature infants with BPD have a greater incidence of hospitalization, and continue to have a greater respiratory morbidity and need for respiratory medications, compared to those without BPD. Lung function abnormalities, especially small airway abnormalities, often persist. Even in the absence of clinical symptoms, BPD survivors have persistent radiological abnormalities and presence of emphysema has been reported on chest computed tomography scans. Concern regarding their exercise tolerance remains. Long-term effects of BPD are still unknown, but given reports of a more rapid decline in lung function and their susceptibility to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease phenotype with aging, it is imperative that lung function of survivors of BPD be closely monitored.

Neonatal ventilation strategies and long-term respiratory outcomes

Sandeep Shetty, Anne Greenough
Early Human Development 90 (2014) 735–739

Long-term respiratory morbidity is common, particularly in those born very prematurely and who have developed bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), but it does occur in those without BPD and in infants born at term. A variety of neonatal strategies have been developed, all with short-term advantages, but meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have demonstrated that only volume-targeted ventilation and prophylactic high-frequency oscillatory ventilation (HFOV) may reduce BPD. Few RCTs have incorporated long-term follow-up, but one has demonstrated that prophylactic HFOV improves respiratory and functional outcomes at school age, despite not reducing BPD. Results from other neonatal interventions have demonstrated that any impact on BPD may not translate into changes in long-term outcomes. All future neonatal ventilation RCTs should have long-term outcomes rather than BPD as their primary outcome if they are to impact on clinical practice.

Prediction of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome in term pregnancies by assessment of fetal lung volume and pulmonary artery resistance index

Mohamed Laban, GM Mansour, MSE Elsafty, AS Hassanin, SS EzzElarab
International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics 128 (2015) 246–250

Objective: To develop reference cutoff values for mean fetal lung volume (FLV) and pulmonary artery resistance index (PA-RI) for prediction of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) in low-risk term pregnancies. Methods: As part of a cross-sectional study, women aged 20–35 years were enrolled and admitted to a tertiary hospital in Cairo, Egypt, for elective repeat cesarean at 37–40 weeks of pregnancy between January 1, 2012, and July 31, 2013. FLV was calculated by virtual organ computer-aided analysis, and PA-RI was measured by Doppler ultrasonography before delivery. Results: A total of 80 women were enrolled. Neonatal RDS developed in 11 (13.8%) of the 80 newborns. Compared with neonates with RDS, healthy neonates had significantly higher FLVs (P b 0.001) and lower PA-RIs (P b 0.001). Neonatal RDS is less likely with FLV of at least 32 cm3 or PA-RI less than or equal to 0.74. Combining these two measures improved the accuracy of prediction. Conclusion: The use of either FLV or PA-RI predicted neonatal RDS. The predictive value increased when these two measures were combined

Pulmonary surfactant - a front line of lung host defense, 2003 JCI0318650.f2

Pulmonary surfactant – a front line of lung host defense, 2003 JCI0318650.f2

Pulmonary hypertension in bronchopulmonary dysplasia

Sara K.Berkelhamer, Karen K.Mestan, and Robin H. Steinhorn
Seminars In  Perinatology 37 (2013)124–131

Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a common complication of neonatal respiratory diseases, including bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), and recent studies have increased aware- ness that PH worsens the clinical course, morbidity and mortality of BPD. Recent evidence indicates that up to 18% of all extremely low-birth-weight infants will develop some degree of PH during their hospitalization, and the incidence rises to 25–40% of the infants with established BPD. Risk factors are not yet well understood, but new evidence shows that fetal growth restriction is a significant predictor of PH. Echocardiography remains the primary method for evaluation of BPD-associated PH, and the development of standardized screening timelines and techniques for identification of infants with BPD-associated PH remains an important ongoing topic of investigation. The use of pulmonary vasodilator medications, such as nitric oxide, sildenafil, and others, in the BPD population is steadily growing, but additional studies are needed regarding their long-term safety and efficacy.
An update on pharmacologic approaches to bronchopulmonary dysplasia

Sailaja Ghanta, Kristen Tropea Leeman, and Helen Christou
Seminars In Perinatology 37 (2013)115–123

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) is the most prevalent long-term morbidity in surviving extremely preterm infants and is linked to increased risk of reactive airways disease, pulmonary hypertension, post-neonatal mortality, and adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. BPD affects approximately 20% of premature newborns, and up to 60% of premature infants born before completing 26 weeks of gestation. It is characterized by the need for assisted ventilation and/or supplemental oxygen at 36 weeks postmenstrual age. Approaches to prevention and treatment of BPD have evolved with improved understanding of its pathogenesis. This review will focus on recent advancements and detail current research in pharmacotherapy for BPD. The evidence for both current and potential future experimental therapies will be reviewed in detail. As our understanding of the complex and multifactorial pathophysiology of BPD changes, research into these current and future approaches must continue to evolve.

Diuretics and bronchodilators
Macrolide antibiotics
Recombinant human Clara cell 10-kilodalton protein(rhCC10)
Vitamin A
Leukotriene receptor antagonist
Pulmonary vasodilators

Skeletal and Muscle

Skeletal Stem Cells in Space and Time

Moustapha Kassem and Paolo Bianco
Cell  Jan 15, 2015; 160: 17-19

The nature, biological characteristics, and contribution to organ physiology of skeletal stem cells are not completely determined. Chan et al. and Worthley et al. demonstrate that a stem cell for skeletal tissues, and a system of more restricted, downstream progenitors, can be identified in mice and demonstrate its role in skeletal tissue maintenance and regeneration.

The groundbreaking concept that bone, cartilage, marrow adipocytes, and hematopoiesis-supporting stroma could originate from a common progenitor and putative stem cell was surprising at the time when it was formulated (Owen and Friedenstein, 1988). The putative stem cell, nonhematopoietic in nature, would be found in the postnatal bone marrow stroma, generate tissues previously thought of as foreign to each other, and support the turnover of tissues and organs that self-renew at a much slower rate compared to other tissues associated with stem cells (blood, epithelia). This concept also connected bone and bone marrow as parts of a single-organ system, implying their functional interplay. For many years, the evidence underpinning the concept has been incomplete.

While multipotency of stromal progenitors has been demonstrated by in vivo transplantation experiments, self-renewal, the defining property of a stem cell, has not been easily demonstrated until recently in humans (Sacchetti et al., 2007) and mice (Mendez-Ferrer et al., 2010). Meanwhile, a confusing and plethoric terminology has been introduced into the literature, which diverted and confounded the search for a skeletal stem cell and its physiological significance (Bianco et al., 2013).

Two studies in this issue of Cell (Chan et al., 2015; Worthley et al., 2015), using a combination of rigorous single-cell analyses and lineage tracing technologies, mark significant steps toward rectifying the course of skeletal stem cell discovery by making several important points, within and beyond skeletal physiology.

First, a stem cell for skeletal tissues, and a system of more restricted, downstream progenitors can in fact be identified and linked to defined phenotype(s) in the mouse. The system is framed conceptually, and approached experimentally, similar to the hematopoietic system.

Second, based on its assayable functions and potential, the stem cell at the top of the hierarchy is defined as a skeletal stem cell (SSC). As noted earlier (Sacchetti et al., 2007) (Bianco et al., 2013), this term clarifies, well beyond semantics, that the range of tissues that the self-renewing stromal progenitor (originally referred to as an ‘‘osteogenic’’ or ‘‘stromal’’ stem cell) (Owen and Friedenstein, 1988) can actually generate in vivo, overlaps with the range of tissues that make up the skeleton.

Third, these cells are spatially restricted, local residents of the bone/bone marrow organ. The systemic circulation is not a sizable contributor to their recruitment to locally deployed functions.

Fourth, a native skeletogenic potential is inherent to the system of progenitor/ stem cells found in the skeleton, and internally regulated by bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling. This is reflected in the expression of regulators and antagonists of BMP signaling within the system, highlighting potential feedback mechanisms modulating expansion or quiescence of specific cell compartments.

Fifth, in cells isolated from other tissues, an assayable skeletogenic potential is not inherent: it can only be induced de novo by BMP reprogramming. These two studies (Chan et al., 2015, Worthley et al., 2015) corroborate the classical concept of ‘‘determined’’ and ‘‘inducible’’ skeletal progenitors (Owen and Friedenstein, 1988): the former residing in the skeleton, the latter found in nonskeletal tissues; the former capable of generating skeletal tissues, in vivo and spontaneously, the latter requiring reprogramming signals in order to acquire a skeletogenic capacity; the former operating in physiological bone formation, the latter in unwanted, ectopic bone formation in diseases such as fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva.

To optimize our ability to obtain specific skeletal tissues for medical application, the study by Chan et al. offers a glimpse of another facet of the biology of SSC lineages and progenitors. Chan et al. show that a homogeneous cell population inherently committed to chondrogenesis can alter its output to generate bone if cotransplanted with multipotent progenitors. Conversely, osteogenic cells can be shifted to a chondrogenic fate by blockade of vascular endothelial growth factor receptor, consistent with the avascular and hypoxic milieu of cartilage. This has two important implications:

  • commitment is flexible in the system;
  • the choir is as important as the soloist and can modulate the solo tune.

Reversibility and population behavior thus emerge as two features that may be characteristic, albeit not unique, of the stromal system, resonating with conceptually comparable evidence in the human system.

The two studies by Chan et al. and Worthely et al. emphasize the relevance not only of their new data, but also of a proper concept of a skeletal stem cell per se, for proper clinical use. Confusion arising from improper conceptualization of skeletal stem cells has markedly limited clinical development of skeletal stem cell biology.

Gremlin 1 Identifies a Skeletal Stem Cell with Bone, Cartilage, and Reticular Stromal Potential

Daniel L. Worthley, Michael Churchill, Jocelyn T. Compton, Yagnesh Tailor, et al.
Cell, Jan 15, 2015; 160: 269–284

The stem cells that maintain and repair the postnatal skeleton remain undefined. One model suggests that perisinusoidal mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) give rise to osteoblasts, chondrocytes, marrow stromal cells, and adipocytes, although the existence of these cells has not been proven through fate-mapping experiments. We demonstrate here that expression of the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) antagonist gremlin 1 defines a population of osteochondroreticular (OCR) stem cells in the bone marrow. OCR stem cells self-renew and generate osteoblasts, chondrocytes, and reticular marrow stromal cells, but not adipocytes. OCR stem cells are concentrated within the metaphysis of long bones not in the perisinusoidal space and are needed for bone development, bone remodeling, and fracture repair. Grem1 expression also identifies intestinal reticular stem cells (iRSCs) that are cells of origin for the periepithelial intestinal mesenchymal sheath. Grem1 expression identifies distinct connective tissue stem cells in both the bone (OCR stem cells) and the intestine (iRSCs).

Identification and Specification of the Mouse Skeletal Stem Cell

Charles K.F. Chan, Eun Young Seo, James Y. Chen, David Lo, A McArdle, et al.
Cell, Jan 15, 2015; 160: 285–298

How are skeletal tissues derived from skeletal stem cells? Here, we map bone, cartilage, and stromal development from a population of highly pure, postnatal skeletal stem cells (mouse skeletal stem cells, mSSCs) to their downstream progenitors of bone, cartilage, and stromal tissue. We then investigated the transcriptome of the stem/progenitor cells for unique gene-expression patterns that would indicate potential regulators of mSSC lineage commitment. We demonstrate that mSSC niche factors can be potent inducers of osteogenesis, and several specific combinations of recombinant mSSC niche factors can activate mSSC genetic programs in situ, even in nonskeletal tissues, resulting in de novo formation of cartilage or bone and bone marrow stroma. Inducing mSSC formation with soluble factors and subsequently regulating the mSSC niche to specify its differentiation toward bone, cartilage, or stromal cells could represent a paradigm shift in the therapeutic regeneration of skeletal tissues.

Bone mesenchymal development

Bone mesenchymal development

Bone mesenchymal development

The bone-remodeling cycle

The bone-remodeling cycle

Nuclear receptor modulation – Role of coregulators in selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) actions

Qin Feng, Bert W. O’Malley
Steroids 90 (2014) 39–43

Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) are a class of small-molecule chemical compounds that bind to estrogen receptor (ER) ligand binding domain (LBD) with high affinity and selectively modulate ER transcriptional activity in a cell- and tissue-dependent manner. The prototype of SERMs is tamoxifen, which has agonist activity in bone, but has antagonist activity in breast. Tamoxifen can reduce the risk of breast cancer and, at same time, prevent osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Tamoxifen is widely prescribed for treatment and prevention of breast cancer. Mechanistically the activity of SERMs is determined by the selective recruitment of coactivators and corepressors in different cell types and tissues. Therefore, understanding the coregulator function is the key to understanding the tissue selective activity of SERMs.


Hematopoietic Stem Cell Arrival Triggers Dynamic Remodeling of the Perivascular Niche

Owen J. Tamplin, Ellen M. Durand, Logan A. Carr, Sarah J. Childs, et al.
Cell, Jan 15, 2015; 160: 241–252

Hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) can reconstitute and sustain the entire blood system. We generated a highly specific transgenic reporter of HSPCs in zebrafish. This allowed us to perform high resolution live imaging on endogenous HSPCs not currently possible in mammalian bone marrow. Using this system, we have uncovered distinct interactions between single HSPCs and their niche. When an HSPC arrives in the perivascular niche, a group of endothelial cells remodel to form a surrounding pocket. This structure appears conserved in mouse fetal liver. Correlative light and electron microscopy revealed that endothelial cells surround a single HSPC attached to a single mesenchymal stromal cell. Live imaging showed that mesenchymal stromal cells anchor HSPCs and orient their divisions. A chemical genetic screen found that the compound lycorine promotes HSPC-niche interactions during development and ultimately expands the stem cell pool into adulthood. Our studies provide evidence for dynamic niche interactions upon stem cell colonization.

Neonatal anemia

Sanjay Aher, Kedar Malwatkar, Sandeep Kadam
Seminars in Fetal & Neonatal Medicine (2008) 13, 239e247

Neonatal anemia and the need for red blood cell (RBC) transfusions are very common in neonatal intensive care units. Neonatal anemia can be due to blood loss, decreased RBC production, or increased destruction of erythrocytes. Physiologic anemia of the newborn and anemia of prematurity are the two most common causes of anemia in neonates. Phlebotomy losses result in much of the anemia seen in extremely low birthweight infants (ELBW). Accepting a lower threshold level for transfusion in ELBW infants can prevent these infants being exposed to multiple donors.

Management of anemia in the newborn

Naomi L.C. Luban
Early Human Development (2008) 84, 493–498

Red blood cell (RBC) transfusions are administered to neonates and premature infants using poorly defined indications that may result in unintentional adverse consequences. Blood products are often manipulated to limit potential adverse events, and meet the unique needs of neonates with specific diagnoses. Selection of RBCs for small volume (5–20 mL/kg) transfusions and for massive transfusion, defined as extracorporeal bypass and exchange transfusions, are of particular concern to neonatologists. Mechanisms and therapeutic treatments to avoid transfusion are another area of significant investigation. RBCs collected in anticoagulant additive solutions and administered in small aliquots to neonates over the shelf life of the product can decrease donor exposure and has supplanted the use of fresh RBCs where each transfusion resulted in a donor exposure. The safety of this practice has been documented and procedures established to aid transfusion services in ensuring that these products are available. Less well established are the indications for transfusion in this population; hemoglobin or hematocrit alone are insufficient indications unless clinical criteria (e.g. oxygen desaturation, apnea and bradycardia, poor weight gain) also augment the justification to transfuse. Comorbidities increase oxygen consumption demands in these infants and include bronchopulmonary dysplasia, rapid growth and cardiac dysfunction. Noninvasive methods or assays have been developed to measure tissue oxygenation; however, a true measure of peripheral oxygen offloading is needed to improve transfusion practice and determine the value of recombinant products that stimulate erythropoiesis. The development of such noninvasive methods is especially important since randomized, controlled clinical trials to support specific practices are often lacking, due at least in part, to the difficulty of performing such studies in tiny infants.
The Effect of Blood Transfusion on the Hemoglobin Oxygen Dissociation Curve of Very Early Preterm Infants During the First Week of Life

Virginie De HaUeux, Anita Truttmann, Carmen Gagnon, and Harry Bard
Seminars in Perinatology, 2002; 26(6): 411-415

This study was conducted during the first week of life to determine the changes in Ps0 (PO2 required to achieve a saturation of 50% at pH 7.4 and 37~ and the proportions of fetal hemoglobin (I-IbF) and adult hemoglobin (HbA) prior to and after transfusion in very early preterm infants. Eleven infants with a gestational age <–27 weeks have been included in study. The hemoglobin dissociation curve and the Ps0 was determined by Hemox-analyser. Liquid chromatography was also performed to determine the proportions of HbF and HbA. The mean gestational age of the 11 infants was 25.1 weeks (-+1 weeks) and their mean birth weight was 736 g (-+125 g). They received 26.9 mL/kg of packed red cells. The mean Ps0 prior and after transfusion was 18.5 +- 0.8 and 21.0 + 1 mm Hg (P = .0003) while the mean percentage of HbF was 92.9 -+ 1.1 and 42.6 -+ 5.7%, respectively. The data of this study show a decrease of hemoglobin oxygen affinity as a result of blood transfusion in very early preterm infants prone to O 2 toxicity. The shift in HbO 2 curve after transfusion should be taken into consideration when oxygen therapy is being regulated for these infants.

Effect of neonatal hemoglobin concentration on long-term outcome of infants affected by fetomaternal hemorrhage

Mizuho Kadooka, H Katob, A Kato, S Ibara, H Minakami, Yuko Maruyama
Early Human Development 90 (2014) 431–434

Background: Fetomaternal hemorrhage (FMH) can cause severe morbidity. However, perinatal risk factors for long-term poor outcome due to FMH have not been extensively studied.                                                                                 Aims: To determine which FMH infants are likely to have neurological sequelae.
Study design: A single-center retrospective observational study. Perinatal factors, including demographic characteristics, Kleihauer–Betke test, blood gas analysis, and neonatal blood hemoglobin concentration ([Hb]), were analyzed in association with long-term outcomes.
Subjects: All 18 neonates referred to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of Kagoshima City Hospital and diagnosed with FMH during a 15-year study period. All had a neonatal [Hb] b7.5 g/dL and 15 of 17 neonates tested had Kleihauer–Betke test result N4.0%.
Outcome measures: Poor long-term outcome was defined as any of the following determined at 12 month old or more: cerebral palsy, mental retardation, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and epilepsy.
Results: Nine of the 18 neonates exhibited poor outcomes. Among demographic characteristics and blood variables compared between two groups with poor and favorable outcomes, significant differences were observed in [Hb] (3.6 ± 1.4 vs. 5.4 ± 1.1 g/dL, P = 0.01), pH (7.09 ± 0.11 vs. 7.25 ± 0.13, P = 0.02) and base deficits (17.5 ± 5.4 vs. 10.4 ± 6.0 mmol/L, P = 0.02) in neonatal blood, and a number of infants with [Hb] ≤ 4.5 g/dL (78%[7/9] vs. 22%[2/9], P= 0.03), respectively. The base deficit in neonatal arterial blood increased significantly with decreasing neonatal [Hb].
Conclusions: Severe anemia causing severe base deficit is associated with neurological sequelae in FMH infants

Clinical and hematological presentation among Indian patients with common hemoglobin variants

Khushnooma Italia, Dipti Upadhye, Pooja Dabke, Harshada Kangane, et al.
Clinica Chimica Acta 431 (2014) 46–51

Background: Co-inheritance of structural hemoglobin variants like HbS, HbD Punjab and HbE can lead to a variable clinical presentation and only few cases have been described so far in the Indian population.
Methods: We present the varied clinical and hematological presentation of 22 cases (HbSD Punjab disease-15, HbSE disease-4, HbD Punjab E disease-3) referred to us for diagnosis.
Results: Two of the 15 HbSDPunjab disease patients had moderate crisis, one presented with mild hemolytic anemia; however, the other 12 patients had a severe clinical presentation with frequent blood transfusion requirements, vaso occlusive crisis, avascular necrosis of the femur and febrile illness. The 4 HbSE disease patients had a mild to moderate presentation. Two of the 3 HbD Punjab E patients were asymptomatic with one patient’s sibling having a mild presentation. The hemoglobin levels of the HbSD Punjab disease patients ranged from 2.3 to 8.5 g/dl and MCV from 76.3 to 111.6 fl. The hemoglobin levels of the HbD Punjab E and HbSE patients ranged from 10.8 to 11.9 and 9.8 to 10.0 g/dl whereas MCV ranged from 67.1 to 78.2 and 74.5 to 76.0 fl respectively.
Conclusions: HbSD Punjab disease patients should be identified during newborn screening programs and managed in a way similar to sickle cell disease. Couple at risk of having HbSD Punjab disease children may be given the option of prenatal diagnosis in subsequent pregnancies.

Sickle cell anemia is the most common hemoglobinopathy seen across the world. It is caused by a point mutation in the 6th codon of the beta (β) globin gene leading to the substitution of the amino acid glutamic acid to valine. The sickle gene is frequently seen in Africa, some Mediterranean countries, India, Middle East—Saudi Arabia and North America. In India the prevalence of hemoglobin S (HbS) carriers varies from 2 to 40% among different population groups and HbS is mainly seen among the scheduled tribe, scheduled caste and other backward class populations in the western, central and parts of eastern and southern India. Sickle cell anemia has a variable clinical presentation in India with the most severe clinical presentation seen in central India whereas patients in the western region show a mild to moderate clinical presentation.

Hemoglobin D Punjab (HbD Punjab) (also known as HbD Los-Angeles, HbD Portugal, HbD North Carolina, D Oak Ridge and D Chicago) is another hemoglobin variant due to a point mutation in codon 121 of the β globin gene resulting in the substitution of the amino acid glutamic acid to glycine. It is a widely distributed hemoglobin with a relatively low prevalence of 0.86% in the Indo-Pak subcontinent, 1–3% in north-western India, 1–3% in the Black population in the Caribbean and North America and has also been reported among the English. It accounts for 55.6% of all the Hb variants seen in the Xenjiang province of China.

Hemoglobin E (HbE) is the most common abnormal hemoglobin in Southeast Asia. In India, the frequency ranges from 4% to 51% in the north eastern region and 3% to 4% in West Bengal in the east. The HbE mutation (β26 GAG→AAG) creates an alternative splice site and the βE chain is insufficiently synthesized, hence the phenotype of this disorder is that of a mild form of β thalassemia.

Though these 3 structural variants are prevalent in different regions of India, their interaction is increasingly seen in all states of the country due to migration of people to different regions for a better livelihood. There are very few reports on interaction of these commonly seen Hb variants and the phenotypic–genotypic presentation of these cases is important for genetic counseling and management.

HbF of patients with HbSD Punjab disease with variable clinical severity. The HbF values of 4 patients are not included as they were post blood transfusion

The genotypes of the patients were confirmed by restriction enzyme digestion and ARMS (Fig). Patients 1 to 15 were characterized as compound heterozygous for HbS and HbD Punjab whereas patients 16 to 19 were characterized as compound heterozygous for HbS and HbE. Patient nos. 20 to 22 were characterized as compound heterozygous for HbE and HbD Punjab.

Molecular characterization of HbS and HbDPunjab by restriction enzyme digestion and of HbE by ARMS.

Molecular characterization of HbS and HbDPunjab by restriction enzyme digestion and of HbE by ARMS.

Molecular characterization of HbS and HbDPunjab by restriction enzyme digestion and of HbE by ARMS.

The 3 common β globin gene variants of hemoglobin, HbS, HbE and HbD Punjab are commonly seen in India, with HbS having a high prevalence in the central belt and some parts of western, eastern and southern India, HbE in the eastern and north eastern region whereas HbD is mostly seen in the north western part of India. These hemoglobin variants have been reported in different population groups. However, with migration and intermixing of the different populations from different geographic regions, occasional cases of HbSD Punjab and HbSE are being reported. There are several HbD variants like HbD Punjab, HbD Iran, HbD Ibadan. However, of these only HbD Punjab interacts with HbS to form a clinically significant condition as the glutamine residue facilitates polymerization of HbS. HbD Iran and HbD Ibadan are non-interacting and produce benign conditions like the sickle cell trait. The first case of HbSD Punjab disease was a brother and sister considered to have atypical sickle cell disease in 1934. This family was further reinvestigated and reported as the first case of HbD Los Angeles which has the same mutation as the HbD Punjab. Serjeant et al. reported HbD Punjab in an English parent in 6 out of 11 HbSD-Punjab disease cases. This has been suggested to be due to the stationing of nearly 50,000 British troops on the Indian continent for a period of 200 y and the introduction into Britain of their Anglo-Indian children.

HbSD Punjab disease shows a similar pattern to HbS homozygous on alkaline hemoglobin electrophoresis but can be differentiated on acid agar gel electrophoresis and on HPLC. In HbSD Punjab disease cases, the peripheral blood films show anisocytosis, poikilocytosis, target cells and irreversibly sickled cells. Values of HbF and HbA2 are similar to those in sickle homozygous cases. HbSD Punjab disease is characterized by a moderately severe hemolytic anemia.

Twenty-one cases of HbSDPunjab were reported by Serjeant of which 16 were reported by different workers among patients originating from Caucasian, Spanish, Australian, Irish, English, Portuguese, Black, American, Venezuelan, Caribbean, Mexican, Turkish and Jamaican backgrounds. Yavarian et al. 2009 reported a multi centric origin of HbD Punjab which in combination with HbS results in sickle cell disease. Patel et al. 2010 have also reported 12 cases of HbSD Punjab from the Orissa state of eastern India. Majority of these cases were symptomatic, presenting with chronic hemolytic anemia and frequent painful crises.

HbF levels >20% were seen in 4 out of our 11 clinically severe patients of HbSD-Punjab disease with the mean HbF levels of 16.8% in 8 clinically severe patients, while 3 clinically severe patients were post transfused. However, the 3 patients with a mild to moderate clinical presentation showed a mean HbF level of 8.6%. This is in contrast to the relatively milder clinical presentation associated with high HbF seen in patients with sickle cell anemia. This was also reported by Adekile et al. 2010 in 5 cases of HbS-DLos Angeles where high HbF did not ameliorate the severe clinical presentation seen in these patients.

These 15 cases of HbSDPunjab disease give us an overall idea of the severe clinical presentation of the disease in different regions of India. However the HbDPunjabE cases were milder or asymptomatic and the HbSE cases were moderately symptomatic. Since most of the cases of HbSDPunjab disease were clinically severe, it is important to pick up these cases during newborn screening and enroll them into a comprehensive care program with the other sickle cell disease patients with introduction of therapeutic interventions such as penicillin prophylaxis if required and pneumococcal immunization. In fact, 2 of our cases (No. 6 and 7) were identified during newborn screening for sickle cell disorders. The parents can be given information on home care and educated to detect symptoms that may lead to serious medical emergencies. The parents of these patients as well as the couples who are at risk of having a child with HbSDPunjab disease could also be counseled about the option of prenatal diagnosis in subsequent pregnancies. It is thus important to document the clinical and hematological presentation of compound heterozygotes with these common β globin chain variants.

Common Hematologic Problems in the Newborn Nursery

Jon F. Watchko
Pediatr Clin N Am – (2015) xxx-xxx

Common RBC disorders include hemolytic disease of the newborn, anemia, and polycythemia. Another clinically relevant hematologic issue in neonates to be covered herein is thrombocytopenia. Disorders of white blood cells will not be reviewed.


(1)               Early clinical jaundice or rapidly developing hyperbilirubinemia are often signs of hemolysis, the differential diagnosis of which commonly includes immune-mediated disorders, red-cell enzyme deficiencies, and red-cell membrane defects.

(2)             Knowledge of the maternal blood type and antibody screen is critical in identifying non-ABO alloantibodies in the maternal serum that may pose a risk for severe hemolytic disease in the newborn.

(3)             Moderate to severe thrombocytopenia in an otherwise well-appearing newborn strongly suggests immune-mediated (alloimmune or autoimmune) thrombocytopenia.

Hemolytic conditions in the neonate

1. Immune-mediated (positive direct Coombs test)  a. Rhesus blood group: Anti-D, -c, -C, -e, -E, CW, and several others

  b. Non-Rhesus blood groups: Kell, Duffy, Kidd, Xg, Lewis, MNS, and others

  c. ABO blood group: Anti-A, -B

2. Red blood cell (RBC) enzyme defects

  a. Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency

  b. Pyruvate kinase deficiency

  c. Others

3. RBC membrane defects

  a. Hereditary spherocytosis

  b. Elliptocytosis

  c. Stomatocytosis

  d. Pyknocytosis

  e. Others

4. Hemoglobinopathies

  a. alpha-thalassemia

  b. gamma-thalassemia

Standard maternal antibody screeningAlloantibody                                 Blood Group

D, C, c, E, e, f, CW, V                     Rhesus

K, k, Kpa, Jsa                                  Kell

Fya, Fyb                                          Duffy

Jka, Jkb                                           Kidd

Xga                                                  Xg

Lea, Leb                                          Lewis

S, s, M, N                                        MNS

P1                                                    P

Lub                                                  Lutheran

Non-ABO alloantibodies reported to cause moderate to severe hemolytic disease of the newbornWithin Rh system: Anti-D, -c, -C, -Cw, -Cx, -e, -E, -Ew, -ce, -Ces, -Rh29, -Rh32, -Rh42, -f, -G, -Goa, -Bea, -Evans, -Rh17, -Hro, -Hr, -Tar, -Sec, -JAL, -STEM

Outside Rh system:  Anti-LW, -K, -k, -Kpa, -Kpb, -Jka, -Jsa, -Jsb, -Ku, -K11, -K22, -Fya, -M, -N, -S, -s, -U, -PP1 pk, -Dib, -Far, -MUT, -En3, -Hut, -Hil, -Vel, -MAM, -JONES, -HJK, -REIT


Red Blood Cell Enzymopathies

G6PD9 and pyruvate kinase (PK) deficiency are the 2 most common red-cell enzyme disorders associated with marked neonatal hyperbilirubinemia. Of these, G6PD deficiency is the more frequently encountered and it remains an important cause of kernicterus worldwide, including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the prevalence in Western countries a reflection in part of immigration patterns and intermarriage. The risk of kernicterus in G6PD deficiency also relates to the potential for unexpected rapidly developing extreme hyperbilirubinemia in this disorder associated with acute severe hemolysis.

Red Blood Cell Membrane Defects

Establishing a diagnosis of RBC membrane defects is classically based on the development of Coombs-negative hyperbilirubinemia, a positive family history, and abnormal RBC smear, albeit it is often difficult because newborns normally exhibit a marked variation in red-cell membrane size and shape. Spherocytes, however, are not often seen on RBC smears of hematologically normal newborns and this morphologic abnormality, when prominent, may yield a diagnosis of hereditary spherocytosis (HS) in the immediate neonatal period. Given that approximately 75% of families affected with hereditary spherocytosis manifest an autosomal dominant phenotype, a positive family history can often be elicited and provide further support for this diagnosis. More recently, Christensen and Henry highlighted the use of an elevated mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) (>36.0 g/dL) and/or elevated ratio of MCHC to mean corpuscular volume, the latter they term the “neonatal HS index” (>0.36, likely >0.40) as screening tools for HS. An index of greater than 0.36 had 97% sensitivity, greater than 99% specificity, and greater than 99% negative predictive value for identifying HS in neonates. Christensen and colleagues also provided a concise update of morphologic RBC features that may be helpful in diagnosing this and other underlying hemolytic conditions in newborns.

The diagnosis of HS can be confirmed using the incubated osmotic fragility test when coupled with fetal red-cell controls or eosin-5-maleimide flow cytometry. One must rule out symptomatic ABO hemolytic disease by performing a direct Coombs test, as infants so affected also may manifest prominent micro-spherocytosis. Moreover, HS and symptomatic ABO hemolytic disease can occur in the same infant and result in severe hyperbilirubinemia and anemia.  Of other red-cell membrane defects, only hereditary elliptocytosis,  stomato-cytosis, and infantile pyknocytosis have been reported to exhibit significant hemolysis in the newborn period. Hereditary elliptocytosis and stomatocytosis are both rare. Infantile pyknocytosis, a transient red-cell membrane abnormality manifesting itself during the first few months of life, is more common.

Risk factors for bilirubin neurotoxicityIsoimmune hemolytic disease

G6PD deficiency




Albumin less than 3.0 g/dL
Data from Maisels MJ, Bhutani VK, Bogen D, et al. Hyperbilirubinemia in the newborn infant > or 535 weeks’ gestation: an update with clarifications. Pediatrics 2009; 124:1193–8.


Polycythemia (venous hematocrit 65%) in seen in infants across a range of conditions associated with active erythropoiesis or passive transfusion.76,77 They include, among others, placental insufficiency, the infant of a diabetic mother, recipient in twin-twin transfusion syndrome, and several aneuploidies, including trisomy. The clinical concern related to polycythemia is the risk for microcirculatory complications of hyperviscosity. However, determining which polycythemic infants are hyperviscous and when to intervene is a challenge.




Metabolic disorders presenting as liver disease

Germaine Pierre, Efstathia Chronopoulou
Paediatrics and Child Health 2013; 23(12): 509-514
The liver is a highly metabolically active organ and many inherited metabolic disorders have hepatic manifestations. The clinical presentation in these patients cannot usually be distinguished from liver disease due to acquired causes like infection, drugs or hematological disorders. Manifestations include acute and chronic liver failure, cholestasis and hepatomegaly. Metabolic causes of acute liver failure in childhood can be as high as 35%. Certain disorders like citrin deficiency and Niemann-Pick C disease may present in infancy with self-limiting cholestasis before presenting in later childhood or adulthood with irreversible disease. This article reviews important details from the history and clinical examination when evaluating the pediatric patient with suspected metabolic disease, the specialist and genetic tests when investigating, and also discusses specific disorders, their clinical course and treatment. The role of liver transplantation is also briefly discussed. Increased awareness of this group of disorders is important as in many cases, early diagnosis leads to early intervention with improved outcome. Diagnosis also allows genetic counselling and future family planning.

Adult liver disorders caused by inborn errors of metabolism: Review and update

Sirisak Chanprasert, Fernando Scaglia
Molecular Genetics and Metabolism 114 (2015) 1–10

Inborn errors of metabolism (IEMs) are a group of genetic diseases that have protean clinical manifestations and can involve several organ systems. The age of onset is highly variable but IEMs afflict mostly the pediatric population. However, in the past decades, the advancement in management and new therapeutic approaches have led to the improvement in IEM patient care. As a result, many patients with IEMs are surviving into adulthood and developing their own set of complications. In addition, some IEMs will present in adulthood. It is important for internists to have the knowledge and be familiar with these conditions because it is predicted that more and more adult patients with IEMs will need continuity of care in the near future. The review will focus on Wilson disease, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, citrin deficiency, and HFE-associated hemochromatosis which are typically found in the adult population. Clinical manifestations and pathophysiology, particularly those that relate to hepatic disease as well as diagnosis and management will be discussed in detail.

Inborn errors of metabolism (IEMs) are a group of genetic diseases characterized by abnormal processing of biochemical reactions, resulting in accumulation of toxic substances that could interfere with normal organ functions, and failure to synthesize essential compounds. IEMs are individually rare, but collectively numerous. The clinical presentations cover a broad spectrum and can involve almost any organ system. The age of onset is highly variable but IEMs afflict mostly the pediatric population.

Wilson disease is an autosomal recessive genetic disorder of copper metabolism. It is characterized by an abnormal accumulation of inorganic copper in various tissues, most notably in the liver and the brain, especially in the basal ganglia. The disease was first described in 1912 by Kinnier Wilson, and affects between 1 in 30,000 and 1 in 100,000 individuals. Clinical features are variable and depend on the extent  and the severity of copper deposition. Typically, patients tend to develop hepatic disease at a younger age than the neuropsychiatric manifestations. Individuals withWilson disease eventually succumb to complications of end stage liver disease or become debilitated from neurological problems, if they are left untreated.

The clinical presentations of Wilson disease are varied affecting many organ systems. However, the overwhelming majority of cases display hepatic and neurologic symptoms. In general, patients with hepatic disease present between the first and second decades of life although patients as young as 3 years old or over 50 years old have also been reported. The most common modes of presentations are acute self-limited hepatitis and chronic active hepatitis that are indistinguishable from other hepatic disorders although liver aminotransferases are generally much lower than in autoimmune or viral hepatitis. Acute fulminant hepatic failure is less common but is observed in approximately 3% of all cases of acute liver failure. Symptoms of acute liver failure include jaundice, coagulopathy, and hepatic encephalopathy. Cirrhosis can develop over time and may be clinically silent. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is rarely associated with Wilson disease, but may occur in the setting of cirrhosis and chronic inflammation.

Copper is an essential element, and is required for the proper functioning of various proteins and enzymes. The total body content of copper in a healthy adult individual is approximately 70–100 mg, while the daily requirements are estimated to be between 1 and 5 mg. Absorption occurs in the small intestine. Copper is taken up to the hepatocytes via the copper transporter hTR1. Once inside the cell, copper is bound to various proteins including metallothionein and glutathione, however, it is the metal chaperone, ATOX1 that helps direct copper to the ATP7B protein for intracellular transport and excretion. At the steady state, copper will be bound to ATP7B and is then incorporated to ceruloplasmin and secreted into the systemic circulation. When the cellular copper concentration arises, ATP7B protein will be redistributed from the trans-Golgi network to the prelysosomal vesicles facilitating copper excretion into the bile. The molecular defects in ATP7B lead to a reduction of copper excretion. Excess copper is accumulated in the liver causing tissue injury. The rate of accumulation of copper varies among individuals, and it may depend on other factors such as alcohol consumption, or viral hepatitis infections. If the liver damage is not severe, patients will accumulate copper in various tissues including the brain, the kidney, the eyes, and the musculoskeletal system leading to clinical disease. A failure of copper to incorporate into ceruloplasmin leads to secretion of the unsteady protein that has a shorter half-life, resulting in the reduced concentrations of ceruloplasmin seen in most patients with Wilson disease.

Wilson disease used to be a progressive fatal condition during the first half of the 20th century because there was no effective treatment available at that time. Penicillamine was the first pharmacologic agent introduced in 1956 for treating this condition. Penicillamine is a sulfhydryl-bearing amino acid cysteine doubly substituted with methyl groups. This drug acts as a chelating agent that promotes the urinary excretion of copper. It is rapidly absorbed in the gastrointestinal track, and over 80% of circulating penicillamine is excreted via the kidneys. Although it is very effective, approximately 10%–50% of Wilson disease patients with neuropsychiatric presentations may experience worsening of their symptoms, and often times the worsening symptoms may not be reversible.

Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency

Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency (AATD) is one of the most common genetic liver diseases in children and adults, affecting 1 in 2000 to 1 in 3000 live births worldwide. It is transmitted in an autosomal co-dominant fashion with variable expressivity. Alpha1 antitrypsin (A1AT) is a member of the serine protease inhibitor (SERPIN) family. Its function is to counteract the proteolytic effect of neutrophil elastase and other neutrophil proteases. Mutations in the SERPINA1, the gene encoding A1AT, result in changes in the protein structure with the PiZZ phenotype being the most common cause of liver and lung disease-associated AATDs. Although, it classically causes early onset chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in adults, liver disease characterized by chronic inflammation, hepatic fibrosis, and cirrhosis is not uncommon in the adult population. Decreased plasma concentration of A1AT predisposes lung tissue to be more susceptible to injury from protease enzymes. However, the underlying mechanism of liver injury is different, and is believed to be caused by accumulation of polymerized mutant A1AT in the hepatocyte endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Currently, there is no specific treatment for liver disease-associated AATD, but A1AT augmentation therapy is available for patients affected with pulmonary involvement.

A1AT is a single-chain, 52-kDa polypeptide of approximately 394 amino acids [56]. It is synthesized in the liver, circulates in the plasma, and functions as an inhibitor of neutrophil elastase and other proteases such as cathepsin G, and proteinase 3. A1AT has a globular shape composed of two central β sheets surrounded by a small β sheet and nine α helices. The pathophysiology underlying liver disease is thought to be a toxic gain-of-function mutation associated with the PiZZ phenotypes. This hypothesis has been supported by the fact that null alleles which produce no detectable plasma A1AT, are not associated with liver disease. In addition, the transgenic mouse model of AATD PiZZ developed periodic acid-Schiff-positive diastase-resistant intrahepatic globule early in life similar to AATD patients. The PiZZ phenotype results in the blockade of the final processing of A1AT in the liver, as only 15% of the A1AT reaches the circulation whereas 85% of non-secreted protein is accumulated in the hepatocytes.

Citrin deficiency

Citrin deficiency is a relatively newly-defined autosomal recessive disease. It encompasses two different sub-groups of patients, neonatal intrahepatic cholestasis caused by citrin deficiency (NICCD), and adult onset citrullinemia type 2 (CTLN 2).

AGC2 exports aspartate out of the mitochondrial matrix in exchange for glutamate and a proton. Thus, this protein has an important role in ureagenesis and gluconeogenesis. In CTLN2, a defect in this protein is believed to limit the supply of aspartate for the formation of argininosuccinate in the cytosol resulting in impairment of ureagenesis. Interestingly, the mouse model of citrin deficiency (Ctrn−/−) fails to develop symptoms of CTLN2 suggesting that the mitochondrial aspartate is not the only source of ureagenesis. However, it should be noted that the rodent liver expresses higher glycerol-phosphate shuttle activity than the human counterpart. With the intact glycerol-phosphate dehydrogenase, it can compensate for the deficiency of AGC2, as demonstrated by the AGC2 and glycerol-phosphate dehydrogenase double knock-out mice that exhibit similar features to those observed in human CTLN2.

HFE-associated hemochromatosis

HFE-associated hemochromatosis is an inborn error of iron metabolism characterized by excessive iron storage resulting in tissue and organ damage. It is the most common autosomal recessive disorder in the Caucasian population, affecting 0.3%–0.5% of individuals of Northern European descent. The term “hemochromatosis” was coined in 1889 by the German pathologist Friedrich Daniel Von Recklinghausen, who described it as bronze stain of organs caused by a blood borne pigment.

The classic clinical triad of cirrhosis, diabetes, and bronze skin pigmentation is rarely observed nowadays given the early recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of this condition. The most common presenting symptoms are nonspecific including weakness, lethargy, and arthralgia.

The liver is a major site of iron storage in healthy individuals and as such it is the organ that is universally affected in HFE-associated hemochromatosis. Elevation of liver aminotransferases indicative of hepatocyte injury is the most common mode of presentation and it can be indistinguishable from other causes of hepatitis. Approximately 15%–40% of patients with HFE-associated hemochromatosis have other liver conditions, including chronic viral hepatitis B or C infection, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and alcoholic liver disease.


The liver in haemochromatosis

Rune J. Ulvik
Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology xxx (2014) xxx–xxx

The review deals with genetic, regulatory and clinical aspects of iron homeostasis and hereditary hemochromatosis. Hemochromatosis was first described in the second half of the 19th century as a clinical entity characterized by excessive iron overload in the liver. Later, increased absorption of iron from the diet was identified as the pathophysiological hallmark. In the 1970s genetic evidence emerged supporting the apparent inheritable feature of the disease. And finally in 1996 a new “hemochromato-sis gene” called HFE was described which was mutated in about 85% of the patients. From the year2000 onward remarkable progress was made in revealing the complex molecular regulation of iron trafficking in the human body and its disturbance in hemochromatosis. The discovery of hepcidin and ferroportin and their interaction in regulating the release of iron from enterocytes and macrophages to plasma were important milestones. The discovery of new, rare variants of non-HFE-hemochromatosis was explained by mutations in the multicomponent signal transduction pathway controlling hepcidin transcription. Inhibited transcription induced by the altered function of mutated gene products, results in low plasma levels of hepcidin which facilitate entry of iron from enterocytes into plasma. In time this leads to progressive accumulation of iron and subsequently development of disease in the liver and other parenchymatous organs. Being the major site of excess iron storage and hepcidin synthesis the liver is a cornerstone in maintaining normal systemic iron homeostasis. Its central pathophysiological role in HFE-hemochromatosis with downgraded hepcidin synthesis, was recently shown by the finding that liver transplantation normalized the hepcidin levels in plasma and there was no sign of iron accumulation in the new liver.


Decoding the enigma of necrotizing enterocolitis in premature infants

Roberto Murgas TorrazzaNan Li, Josef Neu
Pathophysiology 21 (2014) 21–27

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is an enigmatic disease that affects primarily premature infants. It often occurs suddenly and when it occurs, treatment attempts at treatment often fail and results in death. If the infant survives, there is a significant risk of long term sequelae including neurodevelopmental delays. The pathophysiology of NEC is poorly understood and thus prevention has been difficult. In this review, we will provide an overview of why progress may be slow in our understanding of this disease, provide a brief review diagnosis, treatment and some of the current concepts about the pathophysiology of this disease.

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) has been reported since special care units began to house preterm infants .With the advent of modern neonatal intensive care approximately 40 years ago, the occurrence and recognition of the disease markedly increased. It is currently the most common and deadly gastro-intestinal illness seen in preterm infants. Despite major efforts to better understand, treat and prevent this devastating disease, little if any progress has been made during these 4 decades. Underlying this lack of progress is the fact that what is termed “NEC” is likely more than one disease, or mimicked by other diseases, each with a different etiopathogenesis.

Human gut microbiome

Human gut microbiome

Term or near term infants with “NEC” when compared to matched controls usually have occurrence of their disease in the first week after birth, have a significantly higher frequency of prolonged rupture of membranes, chorio-amnionitis, Apgar score <7 at 1 and 5 min, respiratory problems, congenital heart disease, hypoglycemia, and exchange transfusions. When a “NEC” like illness presents in term or near term infants, it should be noted that these are likely to be distinct in pathogenesis than the most common form of NEC and should be differentiated as such.

The infants who suffer primary ischemic necrosis are term or near term infants (although this can occur in preterms) who have concomitant congenital heart disease, often related to poor left ventricular output or obstruction. Other factors that have been associated with primary ischemia are maternal cocaine use, hyperviscosity caused by polycythemia or a severe antecedent hypoxic–ischemic event. Whether the dis-ease entity that results from this should be termed NEC can be debated on historical grounds, but the etiology is clearly different from the NEC seen in most preterm infants.

The pathogenesis of NEC is uncertain, and the etiology seems to be multifactorial. The “classic” form of NEC is highly associated with prematurity; intestinal barrier immaturity, immature immune response, and an immature regulation of intestinal blood flow (Fig.). Although genetics appears to play a role, the environment, especially a dysbiotic intestinal microbiota acting in concert with host immaturities predisposes the preterm infant to disruption of the intestinal epithelia, increased permeability of tight junctions, and release of inflammatory mediators that leads to intestinal mucosa injury and therefore development of necrotizing enterocolitis.

NEC is a multifactorial disease

NEC is a multifactorial disease

What causes NEC? NEC is a multifactorial disease with an interaction of several etiophathologies

It is clear from this review that there are several entities that have been described as NEC. What is also clear is that despite having some overlap in the final parts of the pathophysiologic cascade that lead to necrosis, the disease that is most commonly seen in the preterm infant is likely to have an origin that differs markedly from that seen in term infants with congenital heart disease or severe hypoxic–ischemic injury. Thus, epidemiologic studies will need to differentiate these entities, if the aim is to dissect common features that are most highly associated with development of the disease. At this juncture, we areleft with more of a population based preventative approach, where the use of human milk, evidence based feeding guide-lines, considerations for microbial therapy once these are proved safe and effective and approved as such by regulatory authorities, and perhaps even measures that prevent prematurity will have a major impact on this devastating disease.

Influenced by the microbiota, intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) elaborate cytokines

Influenced by the microbiota, intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) elaborate cytokines

Influenced by the microbiota, intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) elaborate cytokines, including thymic stromal lymphoprotein (TSLP), transforming growthfactor (TGF), and interleukin-10 (IL-10), that can influence pro-inflammatory cytokine production by dendritic cells (DC) and macrophages present in the laminapropria (GALT) and Peyer’s patches. Signals from commensal organisms may influence tissue-specific functions, resulting in T-cell expansion and regulation of the numbers of Th-1,
Th-2, and Th-3 cells. Also modulated by the microbiota, other IEC derived factors, including APRIL (a proliferation-inducing ligand),B-cell activating factor (BAFF), secretory leukocyte peptidase inhibitor (SLPI), prostaglandin E2(PGE2), and other metabolites, directly regulate functions ofboth antigen presenting cells and lymphocytes in the intestinal ecosystem. NK: natural killer cell; LN: lymph node; DC: dendritic cells.Modified from R. Sharma, C. Young, M. Mshvildadze, J. Neu, Intestinal microbiota does it play a role in diseases of the neonate? NeoReviews 10 (4) (2009)e166, with permission

Cross-talk between monocyte.macrophage cells and T.NK lymphocytes

Cross-talk between monocyte.macrophage cells and T.NK lymphocytes

Current Issues in the Management of Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Marion C. W. Henry and R. Lawrence Moss
Seminars in Perinatology, 2004; 28(3): 221-233

Necrotizing enterocolitis is almost exclusively a disease of prematurity, with 90% of all cases occurring in premature infants and 90% of those infants weighing less than 2000 g. Prematurity is the only risk factor for necrotizing enterocolitis consistently identified in case control studies and the disease is rare in countries where prematurity is uncommon such as Japan and Sweden. When necrotizing enterocolitis does occur in full-term infants, it appears to by a somewhat different disease, typically associated with some predisposing condition.

NEC occurs in one to three in 1,000 live births and most commonly affects babies born between 30-32 weeks. It is most often diagnosed during the second week of life and occurs more often in previously fed infants. The mortality from NEC has been cited as 10% to 50% of all NEC cases. Surgical mortality has decreased over the last several decades from 70% to between 20 and 50%. The incremental cost per case of acute hospital care is estimated at $74 to 186 thousand compared to age matched controls, not including additional costs of long term care for the infants’ with lifelong morbidity. Survivors may develop short bowel syndrome, recurrent bouts of catheter-related sepsis, malabsorption, malnutrition, and TPN induced liver failure.

Although extensive research concerning the pathophysiology of necrotizing enterocolitis has occurred, a complete understanding has not been fully elucidated. The classic histologic finding is coagulation necrosis; present in over 90% of specimens. This finding suggests the importance of ischemia in the pathogenesis of NEC. Inflammation and bacterial overgrowth also are present. These findings support the assumptions by Kosloske that NEC occurs by the interaction of 3 events:

  • intestinal ischemia,
  • colonization by pathogenic bacteria and
  • excess protein substrate in the intestinal lumen.

Additionally, the immunologic immaturity of the neonatal gut has been implicated in the development of NEC. Reparative tissue changes including epithelial regeneration, formation of granulation tissue and fibrosis, and mixed areas of acute and chronic inflammatory changes suggest that the pathogenesis of NEC may involve a chronic process of injury and repair.

Premature newborns born prior to the 32nd week of gestational age may have compromised intestinal peristalsis and decreased motility. These motility problems may lead to poor clearance of bacteria, and subsequent bacterial overgrowth. Premature infants also have an immature intestinal tract in terms of immunologic immunity.

There are fewer functional B lymphocytes present and the ability to produce sufficient secretory IgA is reduced. Pepsin, gastric acid and mucus are also not produced as well in prematurity. All of these factors may contribute to the limited proliferation of intestinal flora and the decreased binding of these flora to mucosal cells (Fig).

Role of nitric oxide in the pathogenesis of NEC

Role of nitric oxide in the pathogenesis of NEC

Role of nitric oxide in the pathogenesis of NEC.

Characteristics of the immature gut leading to increased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis

Characteristics of the immature gut leading to increased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis

Characteristics of the immature gut leading to increased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis.

As understanding of the pathophysiology of necrotizing enterocolitis continues to evolve, a unifying concept is emerging. Initially, there is likely a subclinical insult leading to NEC. This may arise from a brief episode of hypoxia or infection. With colonization of the intestines, bacteria bind to the injured mucosa eliciting an inflammatory response which leads to further inflammation.

Intestinal Microbiota Development in Preterm Neonates and Effect of Perinatal Antibiotics

Silvia Arboleya, Borja Sanchez,, Christian Milani, Sabrina Duranti, et al.
Pediatr 2014;-:—).  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.09.041

Objectives Assess the establishment of the intestinal microbiota in very low birth-weight preterm infants and to evaluate the impact of perinatal factors, such as delivery mode and perinatal antibiotics.
Study design We used 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequence-based microbiota analysis and quantitative polymerase chain reaction to evaluate the establishment of the intestinal microbiota. We also evaluated factors affecting the microbiota, during the first 3 months of life in preterm infants (n = 27) compared with full-term babies (n = 13).
Results Immaturity affects the microbiota as indicated by a reduced percentage of the family Bacteroidaceae during the first months of life and by a higher initial percentage of Lactobacillaceae in preterm infants compared with full term infants. Perinatal antibiotics, including intrapartum antimicrobial prophylaxis, affects the gut microbiota, as indicated by increased Enterobacteriaceae family organisms in the infants.

Human gut microbiome

Human gut microbiome

Conclusions Prematurity and perinatal antibiotic administration strongly affect the initial establishment of microbiota with potential consequences for later health.

Ischemia and necrotizing enterocolitis: where, when, and how

Philip T. Nowicki
Seminars in Pediatric Surgery (2005) 14, 152-158

While it is accepted that ischemia contributes to the pathogenesis of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), three important questions regarding this role subsist. First, where within the intestinal circulation does the vascular pathophysiology occur? It is most likely that this event begins within the intramural microcirculation, particularly the small arteries that pierce the gut wall and the submucosal arteriolar plexus insofar as these represent the principal sites of resistance regulation in the gut. Mucosal damage might also disrupt the integrity or function of downstream villous arterioles leading to damage thereto; thereafter, noxious stimuli might ascend into the submucosal vessels via downstream venules and lymphatics. Second, when during the course of pathogenesis does ischemia occur? Ischemia is unlikely to the sole initiating factor of NEC; instead, it is more likely that ischemia is triggered by other events, such as inflammation at the mucosal surface. In this context, it is likely that ischemia plays a secondary, albeit critical role in disease extension. Third, how does the ischemia occur? Regulation of vascular resistance within newborn intestine is principally determined by a balance between the endothelial production of the vasoconstrictor peptide endothelin-1 (ET-1) and endothelial production of the vasodilator free radical nitric oxide (NO). Under normal conditions, the balance heavily favors NO-induced vasodilation, leading to a low resting resistance and high rate of flow. However, factors that disrupt endothelial cell function, eg, ischemia-reperfusion, sustained low-flow perfusion, or proinflammatory mediators, alter the ET-1:NO balance in favor of constriction. The unique ET-1–NO interaction thereafter might facilitate rapid extension of this constriction, generating a viscous cascade wherein ischemia rapidly extends into larger portions of the intestine.

Schematic representation of the intestinal microcirculation

Schematic representation of the intestinal microcirculation

Schematic representation of the intestinal microcirculation. Small mesenteric arteries pierce the muscularis layers and terminate in the submucosa where they give rise to 1A (1st order) arterioles. 2A (2nd order) arterioles arise from the 1A. Although not shown here, these 2A arterioles connect merge with several 1A arterioles, thus generating an arteriolar plexus, or manifold that serves to pressurize the terminal downstream microvasculature. 3A (3rd order) arterioles arise from the 2A and proceed to the mucosa, giving off a 4A branch just before descent into the mucosa. This 4A vessel travels to the muscularis layers. Each 3A vessel becomes the single arteriole perfusing each villus.

Collectively, these studies indicate that disruption of endothelial cell function has the potential to disrupt the normal balance between NO and ET-1 within the newborn intestinal circulation, and that such an event can generate significant ischemia. In this context, it is important to note that NO and ET-1 each regulate the expression and activity of the other. An increased [NO] within the microvascular environment reduces ET-1 expression and compromises ligand binding to the ETA receptor (thus decreasing its contractile efficacy), while ET-1 compromises eNOS expression. Thus, factors that upset the balance between NO and ET-1 will have an immediate and direct effect on vascular tone, but also exert an additional indirect effect by extenuating the disruption of balance between these two factors.

It is not difficult to construct a hypothesis that links the perturbations of I/R and sustained low-flow perfusion with an initial inflammatory insult. Initiation of an inflammatory process at the mucosal–luminal interface could have a direct impact on villus and mucosal 3A arterioles, damaging arteriolar integrity and disrupting villus hemodynamics. Ascent of proinflammatory mediators to the submucosal 1A–2A arteriolar plexus could occur via draining venules and lymphatics, generating damage to vascular effector systems therein; these mediators might include cytokines and platelet activating factor, as these elements have been recovered from human infants with NEC. This event, coupled with a generalized loss of 3A flow throughout a large portion of the mucosal surface, could compromise flow rate within the submucosal arteriolar plexus.

Necrotizing enterocolitis: An update

Loren Berman, R. Lawrence Moss
Seminars in Fetal & Neonatal Medicine 16 (2011) 145e150

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a leading cause of death among patients in the neonatal intensive care unit, carrying a mortality rate of 15e30%. Its pathogenesis is multifactorial and involves an over reactive response of the immune system to an insult. This leads to increased intestinal permeability, bacterial translocation, and sepsis. There are many inflammatory mediators involved in this process, but thus far none has been shown to be a suitable target for preventive or therapeutic measures. NEC usually occurs in the second week of life after the initiation of enteral feeds, and the diagnosis is made based on physical examination findings, laboratory studies, and abdominal radiographs. Neonates with NEC are followed with serial abdominal examinations and radiographs, and may require surgery or primary peritoneal drainage for perforation or necrosis. Many survivors are plagued with long term complications including short bowel syndrome, abnormal growth, and neurodevelopmental delay. Several evidence-based strategies exist that may decrease the incidence of NEC including promotion of human breast milk feeding, careful feeding advancement, and prophylactic probiotic administration in at-risk patients. Prevention is likely to have the greatest impact on decreasing mortality and morbidity related to NEC, as little progress has been made with regard to improving outcomes for neonates once the disease process is underway.

Immune Deficiencies

Primary immunodeficiencies: A rapidly evolving story

Nima Parvaneh, Jean-Laurent Casanova,  LD Notarangelo, ME Conley
J Allergy Clin Immunol 2013;131:314-23.

The characterization of primary immunodeficiencies (PIDs) in human subjects is crucial for a better understanding of the biology of the immune response. New achievements in this field have been possible in light of collaborative studies; attention paid to new phenotypes, infectious and otherwise; improved immunologic techniques; and use of exome sequencing technology. The International Union of Immunological Societies Expert Committee on PIDs recently reported on the updated classification of PIDs. However, new PIDs are being discovered at an ever-increasing rate. A series of 19 novel primary defects of immunity that have been discovered after release of the International Union of Immunological Societies report are discussed here. These new findings highlight the molecular pathways that are associated with clinical phenotypes and suggest potential therapies for affected patients.

Combined Immunodeficiencies

  • T-cell receptor a gene mutation: T-cell receptor ab1 T-cell depletion

T cells comprise 2 distinct lineages that express either ab or gd T-cell receptor (TCR) complexes that perform different tasks in immune responses. During T-cell maturation, the precise order and efficacy of TCR gene rearrangements determine the fate of the cells. Productive β-chain gene rearrangement produces a pre-TCR on the cell surface in association with pre-Tα invariant peptide (β-selection). Pre-TCR signals promote α-chain recombination and transition to a double-positive stage (CD41CD81). This is the prerequisite for central tolerance achieved through positive and negative selection of thymocytes.

  • Ras homolog gene family member H deficiency: Loss of naive T cells and persistent human papilloma virus infections
  • MST1 deficiency: Loss of naive T cells

New insight into the role of MST1 as a critical regulator of T-cell homing and function was provided by the characterization of 8 patients from 4 unrelated families who had homozygous nonsense mutations in STK4, the gene encoding MST1. MST1 was originally identified as an ubiquitously expressed kinase with structural homology to yeast Ste. MST1 is the mammalian homolog of the Drosophila Hippo protein, controlling cell growth, apoptosis, and tumorigenesis. It has both proapoptotic and antiapoptotic functions.

  • Lymphocyte-specific protein tyrosine kinase deficiency: T-cell deficiency with CD41 lymphopenia

Defects in pre-TCR– and TCR-mediated signaling lead to aberrant T-cell development and function (Fig). One of the earliest biochemical events occurring after engagement of the (pre)-TCR is the activation of lymphocyte-specific protein tyrosine kinase (LCK), a member of the SRC family of protein tyrosine kinases. This kinase then phosphorylates immunoreceptor tyrosine-based activation motifs of intracellular domains of CD3 subunits. Phosphorylated immunoreceptor tyrosine-based activation motifs recruit z-chain associated protein kinase of 70 kDa, which, after being phosphorylated by LCK, is responsible for activation of critical downstream events. Major consequences include activation of the membrane-associated enzyme phospholipase Cg1, activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase, nuclear translocation of nuclear factor kB (NFkB), and Ca21/Mg21 mobilization. Through these pathways, LCK controls T-cell development and activation. In mice lacking LCK, T-cell development in the thymus is profoundly blocked at an early double-negative stage.

TCR signaling

TCR signaling

TCR signaling. Multiple signal transduction pathways are stimulated through the TCR. These pathways collectively activate transcription factors that organize T-cell survival, proliferation, differentiation, homeostasis, and migration. Mutant molecules in patients with TCR-related defects are indicated in red.

  • Uncoordinated 119 deficiency: Idiopathic CD41 lymphopenia

Idiopathic CD41 lymphopenia (ICL) is a very heterogeneous clinical entity that is defined, by default, by persistent CD41 T-cell lymphopenia (<300 cells/mL or <20% of total T cells) in the absence of HIV infection or any other known cause of immunodeficiency.

Well-Defined Syndromes with Immunodeficiency

  • Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome protein–interacting protein deficiency: Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome-like phenotype

In hematopoietic cells Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome protein (WASP) is stabilized through forming a complex with WASP interacting protein (WIP).

  • Phospholipase Cg2 gain-of-function mutations: Cold urticaria, immunodeficiency, and autoimmunity/autoinflammatory

This is a unique phenotype, sharing features of antibody deficiency, autoinflammatory diseases, and immune dysregulatory disorders, making its classification difficult. Two recent studies validated the pleiotropy of genetic alterations in the same gene.

Predominantly Antibody Defects

  • Defect in the p85a subunit of phosphoinositide 3-kinase: Agammaglobulinemia and absent B cells
  • CD21 deficiency: Hypogammaglobulinemia
  • LPS-responsive beige-like anchor deficiency:
  • Hypogammaglobulinemia with autoimmunity and

early colitis

Defects Of Immune Dysregulation

  • Pallidin deficiency: Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome type 9
  • CD27 deficiency: Immune dysregulation and
  • persistent EBV infection

Congenital Defects Of Phagocyte Number, Function, Or Both

  • Interferon-stimulated gene 15 deficiency: Mendelian susceptibility to mycobacterial diseases

Defects In Innate Immunity

  • NKX2-5 deficiency: Isolated congenital asplenia
  • Toll/IL-1 receptor domain–containing adaptor inducing IFN-b and TANK-binding kinase 1 deficiencies: Herpes simplex encephalitis
  • Minichromosome maintenance complex component 4 deficiency: NK cell deficiency associated with growth retardation and adrenal insufficiency

Autoinflammatory Disorders

  • A disintegrin and metalloproteinase 17 deficiency: Inflammatory skin and bowel disease


Cross-talk between monocyte.macrophage cells and T.NK lymphocytes

Cross-talk between monocyte.macrophage cells and T.NK lymphocytes

Cross-talk between monocyte/macrophage cells and T/NK lymphocytes. Genes in the IL-12/IFN-g pathway are particularly important for protection against mycobacterial disease. IRF8 is an IFN-g–inducible transcription factor required for the induction of various target genes, including IL-12. The NF-kB essential modulator (NEMO) mutations in the LZ domain impair CD40-NEMO–dependent pathways. Some gp91phox mutations specifically abolish the respiratory burst in monocyte-derived macrophages. ISG15 is secreted by neutrophils and potentiates IFN-g production by NK/T cells. Genetic defects that preclude monocyte development (eg, GATA2) can also predispose to mycobacterial infections (not shown). Mutant molecules in patients with unusual susceptibility to infection are indicated in red.

The field of PIDs is advancing at full speed in 2 directions. New genetic causes of known PIDs are being discovered (eg, CD21 and TRIF). Moreover, new phenotypes qualify as PIDs with the identification of a first genetic cause (eg, generalized pustular psoriasis). Recent findings contribute fundamental knowledge about immune system biology and its perturbation in disease. They are also of considerable clinical benefit for the patients and their families. A priority is to further translate these new discoveries into improved diagnostic methods and more effective therapeutic strategies, promoting the well-being of patients with PIDs.

Primary immunodeficiencies

Luigi D. Notarangelo
J Allergy Clin Immunol 2010; 125(2): S182-194

In the last years, advances in molecular genetics and immunology have resulted in the identification of a growing number of genes causing primary immunodeficiencies (PIDs) in human subjects and a better understanding of the pathophysiology of these disorders. Characterization of the molecular mechanisms of PIDs has also facilitated the development of novel diagnostic assays based on analysis of the expression of the protein encoded by the PID-specific gene. Pilot newborn screening programs for the identification of infants with severe combined immunodeficiency have been initiated. Finally, significant advances have been made in the treatment of PIDs based on the use of subcutaneous immunoglobulins, hematopoietic cell transplantation from unrelated donors and cord blood, and gene therapy. In this review we will discuss the pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment of PIDs, with special attention to recent advances in the field.



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More Complexity in Protein Evolution

Author and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP 

Lactate dehydrogenase like crystallin: a potentially protective shield for Indian spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastix ltardwickit) lens against environmental stress?
A Atta, A Ilyas, Z Hashim, A Ahmed and S Zarina
The Protein Journal 2014; 33(2), p. 128-34.

Taxon specific lens crystallins in ve1iebrates are either similar or identical with various metabolic enzymes. These bifunctional crystallins serve as structural protein in lens along with their catalytic role. In the present study, we have partially purified and characterized lens crystallin from Indian spiny-tailed lizard (Uroma stix hardwickii). We have found lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) activity in lens indicating presence of an enzyme crystallin with dual functions. Taxon specific lens crystallins are product of gene sharing or gene duplication phenomenon where a pre-existing enzyme is recruited as lens crystallin in addition to structural role. In lens, same gene adopts refractive role in lens without modification or loss of pre-existing function during gene sharing phenomenon. Apart from conventional role of structural protein, LDH activity containing crystallin in Uromastix hardwickii lens is likely to have adaptive characteristics to offer protection against toxic effects of oxidative stress and ultraviolet light, hence justifying its recruitment. Taxon specific crystallins may serve as good models to understand structure-function relationship of these proteins.

αB-Crystallin and 27-kd Heat Shock Protein Are Regulated by Stress Conditions in the Central Nervous System and Accumulate in Rosenthal Fibers
T Iwaki, A Iwaki, J Tateishi, Y Sakaki, and JE Goldmant
Ameri J Pathol  1993; 143(2):487-495.

To understand the significance of the accumulation of αB-crystallin in Rosenthal fibers within astrocytes, the expression and metabolism of αB-crystallin in glioma cell lines were examined under the conditions of heat and oxidative stress. αB-crystallin mRNA was increased after both stresses, and αB-crystallin protein moved from a detergent-soluble to a detergent-insoluble form. In addition, Western blotting of Alexander’s  disease brain homogenates revealed that the 27-kd heat shock protein (HSP27), which is related to αB-crystallin, accumulates along with αB-crystallin. The presence of HSP27 in Rosenthal fibers was directly demonstrated by immunohistochemistry. Our results suggest that astrocytes in Alexander’s disease may be involved in an as yet unknown kind of stress reaction that causes the accumulation of αB-ccystallin and HSP27 and results in Rosenthal fiber formation.

α-Crystallin can function as a molecular chaperone
Joseph Horwitz
Proc. Nadl. Acad. Sci. USA Nov 1992; 89: 10449-10453. Biochemistry

The α-crystallins (αA and αB) are major lens structural proteins of the vertebrate eye that are related to the small heat shock protein family. In addition, crystallins (especially αB) are found in many cells organs outside the lens, and aα is overexpressed in several neurological disorders and in cell lines under stress conditions. Here I show that α-crystallin can function as a molecular chaperone. Stoichiometric amounts of αA and αB suppress thermally induced aggregation of various enzymes. In particular, α-crystalln is very efficient in suppressing the thermally induced aggregation of β- and y-crystallins, the two other major mammalian stuctural lens proteins. α-Crystallin was also effective in preventing aggregation and in refolding guanidine hydrochloride-denatured y-crystallin, as judged by circular dichroism spectroscopy. My results thus indicate that α-crystallin refracts light and protects proteins from aggregation in the transparent eye lens and that in nonlens cells α-crystallin may have other functions in addition to its capacity to suppress aggregation of proteins.

Gene sharing by δ-crystallin and argininosuccinate Iyase
J Piatigorsky, WE O’Brient, BL Norman, K Kalumuckt, GJ Wistow, T Borras, et al.
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA  May 1988; 85: 3479-3483. Evolution.

The lens structural protein δ-crystallin and the metabolic enzyme argininosuccinate lyase (ASL; Largininosuccinate argine-lyase, EC have striking sequence similarity. We have demonstrated that duck δ-crystallin has enormously high ASL activity, while chicken δ-crystallin has lower but significant activity. The lenses of these birds had much greater ASL activity than other tissues, suggesting that ASL is being expressed at unusually high levels as a structural component. In Southern blots of human genomic DNA, chicken δ1-crystallin cDNA hybridized only to the human ASL gene; moreover, the two chicken δ-crystallin genes accounted for all the sequences in the chicken genome able to cross-hybridize with a human ASL cDNA, with preferential hybridization to the δ2 gene. Correlations of enzymatic activity and recent data on mRNA levels in the chicken lens suggest that ASL activity depends on expression of the δ2-crystallin gene. The data indicate that the same gene, at least in ducks, encodes two different functions, an enzyme (ASL) and a structural protein (δ-crystallin), although in chickens specialization and separation of functions may have occurred.

Gecko i-crystallin: How cellular retinol-binding protein became an eye lens ultraviolet filter
PJ L Werten, Beate Roll, DMF van Aalten, and WW de Jong
PNAS Mar 2000; 97(7): 3282–3287 http://pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073ypnas.050500597

Eye lenses of various diurnal geckos contain up to 12% i-crystallin. This protein is related to cellular retinol-binding protein type I (CRBP I) but has 3,4-didehydroretinol, rather than retinol, as a ligand. The 3,4-didehydroretinol gives the lens a yellow color, thus protecting the retina by absorbing short-wave radiation. i-Crystallin could be either the gecko’s housekeeping CRBP I, recruited for an additional function in the lens, or the specialized product of a duplicated CRBP I gene. The finding of the same CRBP I-like sequence in lens and liver cDNA of the gecko Lygodactylus picturatus now supports the former option. Comparison with i-crystallin of a distantly related gecko, Gonatodes vittatus, and with mammalian CRBP I, suggests that acquiring the additional lens function is associated with increased amino acid changes. Compared with the rat CRBP I structure, the i-crystallin model shows reduced negative surface charge, which might facilitate the required tight protein packing in the lens. Other changes may provide increased stability, advantageous for a long-living lens protein, without frustrating its role as retinol transporter outside the lens. Despite a number of replacements in the ligand pocket, recombinant i-crystallin binds 3,4-didehydroretinol and retinol with similar and high affinity (1.6 nM). Availability of ligand thus determines whether it binds 3,4-didehydroretinol, as in the lens, or retinol, in other tissues. i-Crystallin presents a striking example of exploiting the potential of an existing gene without prior duplication.

Expression of βA3/A1-crystallin in the developing and adult rat eye
G Parthasarathy, Bo Ma, C Zhang, C Gongora, JS Zigler, MK Duncan, D Sinha
J Molec Histol 2011; 42(1): 59-69. http://dx.doi.org:/10.1007/s10735-010-9307-1

Crystallins are very abundant structural proteins of the lens and are also expressed in other tissues. We have previously reported a spontaneous mutation in the rat βA3/A1-crystallin gene, termed Nuc1, which has a novel, complex, ocular phenotype. The current study was undertaken to compare the expression pattern of this gene during eye development in wild type and Nuc1 rats by in situ hybridization (ISH) and immunohistochemistry (IHC).
βA3/A1-crystallin expression was first detected in the eyes of both wild type and Nuc1 rats at embryonic (E) day 12.5 in the posterior portion of the lens vesicle, and remained limited to the lens fibers throughout fetal life.
After birth, βA3/A1-crystallin expression was also detected in the neural retina (specifically in the astrocytes and ganglion cells) and in the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE).
This suggested that βA3/A1-crystallin is not only a structural protein of the lens, but has cellular function(s) in other ocular tissues.
In summary, expression of βA3/A1-crystallin is controlled differentially in various eye tissues with lens being the site of greatest expression.
Similar staining patterns, detected by ISH and IHC, in wild type and Nuc1 animals suggest that functional differences in the protein, rather than changes in mRNA/protein level of expression likely account for developmental abnormalities in Nuc1.

βA3/A1Crystallin controls anoikis-mediated cell death in astrocytes by modulating PI3K/AKT/mTOR and ERK survival pathways through the PKD/Bit1-signaling axis
B Ma, T Sen, L Asnaghi, M Valapala, F Yang, S Hose, D S McLeod, Y Lu, et la.
Cell Death and Disease 2011; 2(10). http://dx.doi.org:/10.1038/cddis.2011.100

During eye development, apoptosis is vital to the maturation of highly specialized structures such as the lens and retina. Several forms of apoptosis have been described, including anoikis, a form of apoptosis triggered by inadequate or inappropriate cell–matrix contacts. The anoikis regulators, Bit1 (Bcl-2 inhibitor of transcription-1) and protein kinase-D (PKD), are expressed in developing lens when the organelles are present in lens fibers, but are downregulated as active denucleation is initiated.
We have previously shown that in rats with a spontaneous mutation in the Cryba1 gene, coding for βA3/A1-crystallin, normal denucleation of lens fibers is inhibited. In rats with this mutation (Nuc1), both Bit1 and PKD remain abnormally high in lens fiber cells. To determine whether βA3/A1-crystallin has a role in anoikis, we induced anoikis in vitro and conducted mechanistic studies on astrocytes, cells known to express βA3/A1-crystallin.
The expression pattern of Bit1 in retina correlates temporally with the development of astrocytes. Our data also indicate that loss of βA3/A1-crystallin in astrocytes results in a failure of Bit1 to be trafficked to the Golgi, thereby suppressing anoikis. This loss of βA3/A1-crystallin also induces insulin-like growth factor-II, which increases cell survival and growth by modulating the phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT/mTOR and extracellular signal-regulated kinase pathways. We propose that βA3/A1-crystallin is a novel regulator of both life and death decisions in ocular astrocytes.

βA3/A1-crystallin in astroglial cells regulates retinal vascular remodeling during development
D Sinha, A Klise, Y Sergeev, S Hose, IA Bhutto, L Hackler Jr., T Malpic-llanos, et al.
Molec Cell Neurosci 2008; 37(1): 85-95.


Vascular remodeling is a complex process critical to development of the mature vascular system. Astrocytes are known to be indispensable for initial formation of the retinal vasculature; our studies with the Nuc1 rat provide novel evidence that these cells are also essential in the retinal vascular remodeling process.
Nuc1 is a spontaneous mutation in the Sprague–Dawley rat originally characterized by nuclear cataracts in the heterozygote and microphthalmia in the homozygote. We report here that the Nuc1 allele results from mutation of the βA3/A1-crystallin gene, which in the neural retina is expressed only in astrocytes. We demonstrate striking structural abnormalities in Nuc1 astrocytes with profound effects on the organization of intermediate filaments. While vessels form in the Nuc1 retina, the subsequent remodeling process required to provide a mature vascular network is deficient. Our data implicate βA3/A1-crystallin as an important regulatory factor mediating vascular patterning and remodeling in the retina.

A developmental defect in astrocytes inhibits programmed regression of the hyaloid vasculature in the mammalian eye
C Zhang, L Asnaghi, C Gongora, B Patek, S Hose, Bo Ma, MA Fard, L Brako, et al.
Eur J Cell Biol 2011; 90(5): 440-448.

Previously we reported the novel observation that astrocytes ensheath the persistent hyaloid artery, both in the Nuc1 spontaneous mutant rat, and in human PFV (persistent fetal vasculature) disease (Developmental Dynamics 234:36–47, 2005). We now show that astrocytes isolated from both the optic nerve and retina of Nuc1 rats migrate faster than wild type astrocytes. Aquaporin 4 (AQP4), the major water channel in astrocytes, has been shown to be important in astrocyte migration. We demonstrate that AQP4 expression is elevated in the astrocytes in PFV conditions, and we hypothesize that this causes the cells to migrate abnormally into the vitreous where they ensheath the hyaloid artery. This abnormal association of astrocytes with the hyaloid artery may impede the normal macrophage-mediated remodeling and regression of the hyaloid system.

βA3/A1-crystallin is required for proper astrocyte template formation and vascular remodeling in the retina.
D Sinha; WJ Stark; M Valapala; IA Bhutto; M Cano; S Hose; GA Lutty; et al.  Transgenic research 2012; 21(5):1033-42.

Nuc1 is a spontaneous rat mutant resulting from a mutation in the Cryba1 gene, coding for βA3/A1-crystallin. Our earlier studies with Nuc1 provided novel evidence that astrocytes, which express βA3/A1-crystallin, have a pivotal role in retinal remodeling. The role of astrocytes in the retina is only beginning to be explored. One of the limitations in the field is the lack of appropriate animal models to better investigate the function of astrocytes in retinal health and disease. We have now established transgenic mice that overexpress the Nuc1 mutant form of Cryba1, specifically in astrocytes. Astrocytes in wild type mice show normal compact stellate structure, producing a honeycomb-like network. In contrast, in transgenics over-expressing the mutant (Nuc1) Cryba1 in astrocytes, bundle-like structures with abnormal patterns and morphology were observed. In the nerve fiber layer of the transgenic mice, an additional layer of astrocytes adjacent to the vitreous is evident. This abnormal organization of astrocytes affects both the superficial and deep retinal vascular density and remodeling. Fluorescein angiography showed increased venous dilation and tortuosity of branches in the transgenic retina, as compared to wild type. Moreover, there appear to be fewer interactions between astrocytes and endothelial cells in the transgenic retina than in normal mouse retina. Further, astrocytes overexpressing the mutant βA3/A1-crystallin migrate into the vitreous, and ensheath the hyaloid artery, in a manner similar to that seen in the Nuc1 rat. Together, these data demonstrate that developmental abnormalities of astrocytes can affect the normal remodeling process of both fetal and retinal vessels of the eye and that βA3/A1-crystallin is essential for normal astrocyte function in the retina.

Ontogeny of oxytocin and vasopressin receptor binding in the lateral septum in prairie and montane voles
Z. Wang, L.J. Young
Developmental Brain Research 1997; 104:191–195.

Adult prairie (Microtus ochrogaster). and montane voles (M. montanus). differ in the distribution of oxytocin OT. and vasopressin AVP receptor binding in the brain. The present study examined the ontogenetic pattern of these receptor bindings in the lateral septum in both species to determine whether adult differences in the receptor binding are derived from a common pattern in development. In both species, OT and AVP receptor binding in the lateral septum were detected neonatally, increased during development, and reached the adult level at weaning third week. The progression of OT and AVP receptor differed, as OT receptor binding increased continually until weaning while AVP receptor binding did not change in the first week, increased rapidly in the second week, and was sustained thereafter. For both receptors, the binding increased more rapidly in montane than in prairie voles, resulting in species differences in receptor binding at weaning and in adulthood. Together, these data indicate that OT and AVP could affect the brain during development in a peptide- and species-specific manner in voles.

Evolution of the vasopressin/oxytocin superfamily: Characterization of a cDNA encoding a vasopressin-related precursor, preproconopressin, from the mollusc Lymnaea stagnalis
RE Van Kesteren, AB Smit, RW Dirksi, ND De With, WPM Geraerts, and J Joosse
Proc. Nadl. Acad. Sci. USA May 1992; 89: 4593-4597. Neurobiology

Although the nonapeptide hormones vasopressin, oxytocin, and related peptides from vertebrates and some nonapeptides from invertebrates share similarities in amino acid sequence, their evolutionary relationships are not dear. To investigate this issue, we doned a cDNA encoding a vasopressin-related peptide, Lys-conopressin, produced in the central nervous system of the gastropod mollusc Lymnaea stagnalis. The predicted preproconopressin has the overall architecture of vertebrate preprovasopressins, with a signal peptide, Lys-conopressin, that is flanked at the C terminus by an amidation signal and a pair of basic residues, followed by a neurophysin domain. The Lymnaea neurophysin and the vertebrate neurophysins share high sequence identity, which includes the conservation of all 14 cysteine residues. In addition, the Lymnaea neurophysin possesses unique structural characteristics. It contains a putative N-linked glycosylation site at a position in the vertebrate neurophysins where a strictly conserved tyrosine residue, which plays an essential role in binding of the nonapptide hormones, is found. The C-terminal copeptin homologous extension of the Lymnaea neurophysin has low sequence identity with the vertebrate counterparts and is probably not cleaved from the prohormone, as are the mammalin copeptins. The conopressin gene is expressed in only a few neurons in both pedal ganglia of the central nervous system. The conopressin transcript is present in two sizes, due to alternative use of polyadenylylation signals. The data presented here demonstrate that the typical organization of the prohormones of the vasopressin/oxytocin superfamily must have been present in the common ancestors of vertebrates and invertebrates.

A common allele in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) impacts prosocial temperament and human hypothalamic-limbic structure and function
H Tosta, B Kolachanaa, S Hakimia, H Lemaitrea, BA Verchinskia, et al.
PNAS Aug 3, 2010; 107(31): 13936–13941

The evolutionarily highly conserved neuropeptide oxytocin is a key mediator of social and emotional behavior in mammals, including humans. A common variant (rs53576) in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) has been implicated in social-behavioral phenotypes, such as maternal sensitivity and empathy, and with neuropsychiatric disorders associated with social impairment, but the intermediate neural mechanisms are unknown. Here, we used multimodal neuroimaging in a large sample of healthy human subjects to identify structural and functional alterations in OXTR risk allele carriers and their link to temperament. Activation and interregional coupling of the amygdala during the processing of emotionally salient social cues was significantly affected by genotype. In addition, evidence for structural alterations in key oxytocinergic regions emerged, particularly in the hypothalamus. These neural characteristics predicted lower levels of reward dependence, specifically in male risk allele carriers. Our findings identify sex-dependent mechanisms impacting the structure and function of hypothalamic-limbic circuits that are of potential clinical and translational significance.
Test of Association Between 10 SNPs in the Oxytocin Receptor Gene and Conduct Disorder
JT Sakai, TJ Crowley, MC Stallings, M McQueen, JK Hewitt, C Hopfer, et al.
Psychiatr Genet. 2012 Apr; 22(2): 99–102. http://dx.doi.org:/10.1097/YPG.0b013e32834c0cb2

Animal and human studies have implicated oxytocin (OXT) in affiliative and prosocial behaviors. We tested whether genetic variation in the OXT receptor (OXTR) gene is associated with conduct disorder (CD).
Utilizing a family-based sample of adolescent probands recruited from an adolescent substance abuse treatment program, control probands and their families (total sample n=1,750), we conducted three tests of association with CD and 10 SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) in the OXTR gene: (1) family-based comparison utilizing the entire sample; (2) within-Whites, case control comparison of adolescent patients with CD and controls without CD; and (3) within-Whites case-control comparison of parents of patients and parents of controls.
Family-based association tests failed to show significant results (no results p<0.05). While strictly correcting for the number of tests (α=0.002), adolescent patients with CD did not differ significantly from adolescent controls in genotype frequency for the OXTR SNPs tested; similarly, comparison of OXTR genotype frequencies for parents failed to differentiate patient and control family type, except a trend association for rs237889 (p=0.004). In this sample, 10 SNPs in the OXTR gene were not significantly associated with CD.

Leu55Pro transthyretin accelerates subunit exchange and leads to rapid formation of hybrid tetramers
CA Keetch, EHC Bromley, MG McCammon, N Wang, J Christodoulou, CV Robinson
JBC  Oct 11, 2005 M508753200. http://jbc.org/cgi/doi/10.1074/jbc.M508753200

Transthyretin is a tetrameric protein associated with the commonest form of

systemic amyloid disease. Using isotopically labeled proteins and mass spectrometry we compared subunit exchange in wild-type transthyretin with that of the variant associated with the most aggressive form of the disease, Leu55Pro. Wild-type subunit exchange occurs via both monomers and dimers , while exchange via dimers is the dominant mechanism for the Leu55Pro variant. Since patients with the Leu55Pro mutation are heterozygous, expressing both proteins simultaneously, we also analyzed the subunit exchange reaction between wild-type and Leu55Pro tetramers . We found that hybrid tetramers containing two or three Leu55Pro subunits dominate in the early stages of the reaction. Surprisingly we also found that in the presence of Leu55Pro transthyretin, the rate of dissociation of wild-type transthyretin is increased. This implies interactions between the two proteins that accelerate the formation of hybrid tetramers, a result with important implications for transthyretin amyloidos is.

Beyond Genetic Factors in Familial Amyloidotic Polyneuropathy: Protein Glycation and the Loss of Fibrinogen’s Chaperone Activity
G da Costa, RA Gomes, A Guerreiro, E Mateus, E Monteiro, et al.
PLoS ONE 2011; 6(10): e24850. http://dx.doi.org:/10.1371/journal.pone.0024850

Familial amyloidotic polyneuropathy (FAP) is a systemic conformational disease characterized by extracellular amyloid fibril formation from plasma transthyretin (TTR). This is a crippling, fatal disease for which liver transplantation is the only effective therapy. More than 80 TTR point mutations are associated with amyloidotic diseases and the most widely accepted disease model relates TTR tetramer instability with TTR point mutations. However, this model fails to explain two observations. First, native TTR also forms amyloid in systemic senile amyloidosis, a geriatric disease. Second, age at disease onset varies by decades for patients bearing the same mutation and some mutation carrier individuals are asymptomatic throughout their lives. Hence, mutations only accelerate the process and non-genetic factors must play a key role in the molecular mechanisms of disease. One of these factors is protein glycation, previously associated with conformational diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The glycation hypothesis in FAP is supported by our previous discovery of methylglyoxal-derived glycation of amyloid fibrils in FAP patients. Here we show that plasma proteins are differentially glycated by methylglyoxal in FAP patients and that fibrinogen is the main glycation target. Moreover, we also found that fibrinogen interacts with TTR in plasma. Fibrinogen has chaperone activity which is compromised upon glycation by methylglyoxal. Hence, we propose that methylglyoxal glycation hampers the chaperone activity of fibrinogen, rendering TTR more prone to aggregation, amyloid formation and ultimately, disease.

Aromatic Sulfonyl Fluorides Covalently Kinetically Stabilize Transthyretin to Prevent Amyloidogenesis while Affording a Fluorescent Conjugate
NP Grimster, S Connelly, A Baranczak, J Dong, …, JW Kelly
J Am Chem Soc. 2013 Apr 17; 135(15): 5656–5668. http://dx.doi.org:/10.1021/ja311729d

Molecules that bind selectively to a given protein and then undergo a rapid chemoselective reaction to form a covalent conjugate have utility in drug development. Herein a library of 1,3,4-oxadiazoles substituted at the 2 position with an aryl sulfonyl fluoride and at the 5 position with a substituted aryl known to have high affinity for the inner thyroxine binding subsite of transthyretin (TTR) were conceived of by structure-based design principles and were chemically synthesized. When bound in the thyroxine binding site, most of the aryl sulfonyl fluorides react rapidly and chemoselectively with the pKa-perturbed K15 residue, kinetically stabilizing TTR and thus preventing amyloid fibril formation, known to cause polyneuropathy. Conjugation t50s range from 1 to 4 min, ~ 1400 times faster than the hydrolysis reaction outside the thyroxine binding site. Xray crystallography confirms the anticipated binding orientation and sheds light on the sulfonyl fluoride activation leading to the sulfonamide linkage to TTR. A few of the aryl sulfonyl fluorides efficiently form conjugates with TTR in plasma. A few of the TTR covalent kinetic stabilizers synthesized exhibit fluorescence upon conjugation and therefore could have imaging applications as a consequence of the environment sensitive fluorescence of the chromophore.

Identification of S-sulfonation and S-thiolation of a novel transthyretin Phe33Cys variant from a patient diagnosed with familial transthyretin amyloidosis
A Lim, T Prokaeva, ME Mccomb, LH Connors, M Skinner, and CE Costello
Protein Science 2003; 12:1775–1786.

Familial transthyretin amyloidosis (ATTR) is an autosomal dominant disorder associated with a variant form of the plasma carrier protein transthyretin (TTR). Amyloid fibrils consisting of variant TTR, wild-type TTR, and TTR fragments deposit in tissues and organs. The diagnosis of ATTR relies on the identification of pathologic TTR variants in plasma of symptomatic individuals who have biopsy proven amyloid disease. Previously, we have developed a mass spectrometry-based approach, in combination with direct DNA sequence analysis, to fully identify TTR variants. Our methodology uses immunoprecipitation to isolate TTR from serum, and electrospray ionization and matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (MS) peptide mapping to identify TTR variants and posttranslational modifications. Unambiguous identification of the amino acid substitution is performed using tandem MS (MS/MS) analysis and confirmed by direct DNA sequence analysis. The MS and MS/MS analyses also yield information about posttranslational modifications. Using this approach, we have recently identified a novel pathologic TTR variant. This variant has an amino acid substitution (Phe — Cys) at position 33. In addition, like the Cys10 present in the wild type and in this variant, the Cys33 residue was both S-sulfonated and S-thiolated (conjugated to cysteine, cysteinylglycine, and glutathione). These adducts may play a role in the TTR fibrillogenesis.

Evolutionary relationships of lactate dehydrogenases (LDHs) from mammals, birds, an amphibian, fish, barley, and bacteria: LDH cDNA sequences from Xenopus, pig, and rat
S Tsuji, MA Qureshi, EW Hou, WM Fitch, and S S.-L. Li
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA Sep 1994; 91: 9392-9396. Evolution

The nucleotide sequences of the cDNAs encoding LDH (EC subunits LDH-A (muscle), LDH-B (liver), and LDH-C (oocyte) from Xenopus laevis, LDH-A (muscle) and LDH-B (heart) from pig, and LDH-B (heart) and LDH-C (testis) from rat were determined. These seven newly deduced amino acid sequences and 22 other published LDH sequences, and three unpublished fish LDH-A sequences kindly provided by G. N. Somero and D. A. Powers, were used to construct the most parsimonious phylogenetic tree of these 32 LDH subunits from mammals, birds, an amphibian, fish, barley, and bacteria. There have been at least six LDH gene duplications among the vertebrates. The Xenopus LDH-A, LDH-B, and LDH-C subunits are most closely related to each other and then are more closely related to vertebrate LDH-B than LDH-A. Three fish LDH-As, as well as a single LDH of lamprey, also seem to be more related to vertebrate LDH-B than to land vertebrate LDH-A. The mammalian LDH-C (testis) subunit appears to have diverged very early, prior to the divergence of vertebrate LDH-A and LDH-B subunits, as reported previously.

Evidence for neutral and selective processes in the recruitment of enzyme-crystallins in avian lenses
Graeme Wistow, Andrea Anderson, and Joram Piatigorsky
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA Aug 1990; 87: 6277-6280, Evolution

In apparent contrast to most other tissues, the ocular lenses in vertebrates show striking differences in protein composition between taxa, most notably in the recruitment of different enzymes as major structural proteins. This variability appears to be the result of at least partially neutral evolutionary processes, although there is also evidence for selective modification in molecular structure. Here we describe a bird, the chimney swift (Chaetura pelagica), that lacks δ-crystallin/ argininosuccinate lyase, usually the major crystallin of avian lenses. Clearly, δ-crystallin is not specifically required for a functionally effective avian lens. Furthermore the lens composition of the swift is more similar to that of the related hummingbirds than to that of the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), suggesting that phylogeny is more important than environmental selection in the recruitment of crystallins. However differences in ε-crystallin/lactate dehydrogenase-B sequence between swift and hummingbird and other avian and reptilian species suggest that selective pressures may also be working at the molecular level. These differences also confirm the close relationship between swifts and hummingbirds.

Enzyme/crystallins and extremely high pyridine nucleotide levels in the eye lens.
Zigler, J. S., Jr.; Rao, P. V.
FASEB J. 1991; 3: 223-225.

Taxon-specific crystallins are proteins present in high abundance in the lens of phylogenetically restricted groups of animals. Recently it has been found that these proteins are actually enzymes which the lens has apparently adopted to serve as structural proteins. Most of these proteins have been shown to be identical to, or related to, oxidoreductases. In guinea pig lens, which contains zeta-crystallin, a protein with an NADPH dependent oxidoreductase activity, the levels of both NADPH and NADP* are extremely high and correlate with the concentration of zeta-crystallin. We report here nucleotide assays on lenses from vertebrates containing other enzyme/crystallins. In each case where the enzyme/crystallin is a pyridine nucleotide-binding protein the level of that particular nucleotide is extremely high in the lens. The presence of an enzyme/crystallin does not affect the lenticular concentrations of those nucleotides which are not specifically bound. The possibility that nucleotide binding may be a factor in the selection of some enzymes to serve as enzyme/crystallins is considered.

Comparison of stability properties of lactate dehydrogenase B4/ε-crystallin from different species
CEM Voorter, LTM Wintjes, PWH Heinstra, H Bloemendal and WW De Jong
Eur. J. Biochem. 1993; 211: 643-648

ε-Crystallin occurs as an abundant lens protein in many birds and in crocodiles and has been identified as heart-type lactate dehydrogenase (LDH-B4). Lens proteins have, due to their longevity and environmental conditions, extraordinary requirements for structural stability. To study lens protein stability, we compared various parameters of LDH-B4/ε-crystallin from lens and/or heart of duck, which has abundant amounts of this enzyme in its lenses, and of chicken and pig, which have no λ-crystallin. Measuring the thermostability of LDH-B4 from the different sources, the t50 values (temperature at which 50% of the enzyme activity remains after a 20-min period) for LDH-B4 from duck heart, duck lens and chicken heart were all found to be around 76°C whereas pig heart LDHB4 was less thermostable, having a t50 value of 625°C. A similar tendency was found with urea inactivation studies. Plotting the first-order rate constants obtained from inactivation kinetic plots against urea concentration, it was clear that LDH-B4 from pig heart was less stable in urea than the homologous enzymes from duck heart, chicken heart and duck lens. The duck and chicken enzymes were also much more resistant against proteolysis than the porcine enzyme. Therefore, it is concluded that avian LDH-B4 is structurally more stable than the homologous enzyme in mammals. This greater stability might make it suitable to function as a ε-crystallin, as in duck, but is not necessarily associated with high lens expression, as in chicken.

Duck lens ε-crystallin and lactate dehydrogenase B4 are identical: A single-copy gene product with two distinct functions
W Hendriks, JWM Mulders, MA Bibby, C Slingsby, H Bloemendal, and WW De Jong
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA Oct 1988; 85: 7114-7118. Biochemistry

To investigate whether or not duck lens ε-crystaliin and duck heart lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) B4 are the product of the same gene, we have isolated and sequenced cDNA clones of duck ε-crystallin. By using these clones we demonstrate that there is a single-copy Ldh-B gene in duck and in chicken. In the duck lens this gene is overexpressed, and its product is subject to posttranslational modification. Reconstruction of the evolutionary history of the LDH protein family reveals that the mammalian Ldh-C gene most probably originated from an ancestral Ldh-A gene and that the amino acid replacement rate in LDH-C is approximately 4 times the rate in LDH-A. Molecular modeling of LDH-B sequences shows that the increased thermostability of the avian tetramer might be explained by mutations that increase the number of ion pairs. Furthermore, the replacement of bulky side chains by glycines on the corners of the duck protein suggests an adaptation to facilitate close packing in the lens.

Lactate Dehydrogenase A as a Highly Abundant Eye Lens Protein in Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus): Upsilon (υ)-Crystallin
T van Rheede,  R Amons, N Stewart, and WW de Jong
Mol. Biol. Evol. 2003; 20(06):994–998. http://dx.doi.org:/10.1093/molbev/msg116

Vertebrate eye lenses mostly contain two abundant types of proteins, the α-crystallins and the β/λ-crystallins. In addition, certain housekeeping enzymes are highly expressed as crystallins in various taxa. We now observed an unusual approximately 41-kd protein that makes up 16% to 18% of the total protein in the platypus eye lens. Its cDNA sequence was determined, which identified the protein as muscle-type lactate dehydrogenase A (LDH-A). It is the first observation of LDH-A as a crystallin, and we designate it upsilon (υ)-crystallin. Interestingly, the related heart-type LDH-B occurs as an abundant lens protein, known as ε-crystallin, in many birds and crocodiles. Thus, two members of the ldh gene family have independently been recruited as crystallins in different higher vertebrate lineages, suggesting that they are particularly suited for this purpose in terms of gene regulatory or protein structural properties. To establish whether platypus LDH-A/υ-crystallin has been under different selective constraints as compared with other vertebrate LDH-A sequences, we reconstructed the vertebrate Ldh-A gene phylogeny. No conspicuous rate deviations or amino acid replacements were observed.

Isozymes, moonlighting proteins and promiscous enzymes
M Nath Gupta, M Kapoor, AB Majumder and V Singh
Current Science Apr 2011; 100(8): 1152-1162.

The structures of isoenzymes differ and yet these catalyse the same type of reaction. These structures evolved to suit the physiological needs and are located in different parts of cells or tissues. Moonlighting proteins represent the same structure performing very different biological functions. Biological promiscuity reveals that the same active sites can catalyse different types of reactions. These three different phenomena, all illustrate similar evolutionary strategies. Viewed together, it emerges that biologists need to take a hard look at the ‘structure–function’ paradigm as well as the notions of biological specificity. Meanwhile, biotechnologists  continue to exploit the opportunities which ‘nonspecificity’ offers.

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Social Behavior Traits Embedded in Gene Expression

Reviewer and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP


Social behavior traits embedded in gene expression

This article is a special piece on the anniversary of my brother’s death. It is special in the unique discoveries on social interaction and genetic mutations expressed early or in adolescence, with severe disabilities to the individual, and with a challenge to the families affected.  The first is about the genetic classification of schizophrenia variants.  The second is about a severe autism variant with insights into the protein expression in language development.


Schizophrenia is Actually 8 Genetic Disorders

09/15/2014    http://www.biosciencetechnology.com/news/2014/09/schizophrenia-actually-8-genetic-disorders

DNA variations matching schizophrenia symptoms

DNA variations matching schizophrenia symptoms


Igor Zwir, Ph.D., one of the senior investigators, helped match precise DNA variations in people with and without schizophrenia to symptoms in individual patients. (Source: WUSTL/Robert Boston)

 New research shows that schizophrenia isn’t a single disease but

  •  a group of eight genetically distinct disorders,
  • each with its own set of symptoms.

The finding could be a first step toward improved diagnosis and treatment for the debilitating psychiatric illness.

The research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is reported online in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

About 80 percent of the risk for schizophrenia is known to be inherited, but scientists have struggled to identify specific genes for the condition. Now, in a novel approach analyzing genetic influences on more than 4,000 people with schizophrenia, the research team has identified distinct gene clusters that contribute to

  • eight different classes of schizophrenia.

Genes don’t operate by themselves,” said C. Robert Cloninger, one of the study’s senior investigators. “They function in concert much like an orchestra, and to understand how they’re working, you have to know

  • not just who the members of the orchestra are
  • but how they interact.”

Cloninger, the Wallace Renard Professor of Psychiatry and Genetics, and his colleagues matched precise DNA variations

  • in people with and without schizophrenia
  • to symptoms in individual patients.

In all, the researchers analyzed nearly 700,000 sites within the genome where a single unit of DNA is changed, often referred to as a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP). They looked at SNPs in 4,200 people with schizophrenia and 3,800 healthy controls,

  • learning how individual genetic variations
  • interacted with each other to produce the illness.

In some patients with hallucinations or delusions, for example, the researchers

  • matched distinct genetic features to patients’ symptoms,
  • demonstrating that specific genetic variations interacted
  • to create a 95 percent certainty of schizophrenia.

In another group, they found that

  • disorganized speech and behavior were specifically associated with
  • a set of DNA variations that carried a 100 percent risk of schizophrenia.

Cloninger said..  “What we’ve done here, after a decade of frustration in the field
of psychiatric genetics, is identify the way genes interact with each other, how

  • the ‘orchestra’ is either harmonious and leads to health, or
  • disorganized in ways that lead to distinct classes of schizophrenia,”

Although individual genes have only weak and inconsistent associations with schizophrenia, groups of interacting gene clusters

  • create an extremely high and consistent risk of illness,
  • on the order of 70 to 100 percent.

That makes it almost impossible for people with those genetic variations to avoid the condition. In all, the researchers identified

  • 42 clusters of genetic variations that
  • dramatically increased the risk of schizophrenia.

“In the past, scientists had been looking for associations between individual genes and schizophrenia,” explained Dragan Svrakic, a co-investigator and a professor of psychiatry at Washington University. “When one study would identify an association, no one else could replicate it. What was missing was the idea that

  • these genes don’t act independently.
  • They work in concert to disrupt the brain’s structure and function,
  • and that results in the illness.”

Svrakic said it was only when the research team

  1. was able to organize the genetic variations and
  2. the patients’ symptoms into groups that
  3. they could see that particular clusters of DNA variations
  4. acted together to cause specific types of symptoms.

Then they divided patients according to the type and severity of their symptoms, such as

  1. different types of hallucinations or delusions, and other symptoms, such as
  2. lack of initiative,
  3. problems organizing thoughts or a
  4. lack of connection between emotions and thoughts.

The results indicated that those symptom profiles describe

  • eight qualitatively distinct disorders
  • based on underlying genetic conditions.

The investigators also replicated their findings in two additional DNA databases of people with schizophrenia, an indicator that

  • identifying the gene variations that are working together
  • is a valid avenue to explore for improving diagnosis and treatment.
  1. By identifying groups of genetic variations and
  2. matching them to symptoms in individual patients,
  3. it soon may be possible to target treatments
  4. to specific pathways that cause problems,

according to co-investigator Igor Zwir, research associate in psychiatry at Washington University and associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Granada, Spain.

And Cloninger added it may be possible to use the same approach

  • to better understand how genes work together
  • to cause other common but complex disorders.

“People have been looking at genes to get a better handle on

  1. heart disease,
  2. hypertension and
  3. diabetes, and

it’s been a real disappointment,” he said. “Most of the variability in the severity of disease has not been explained, but we were able to find that

  • different sets of genetic variations
  • were leading to distinct clinical syndromes.

So I think this really could change the way people approach understanding the causes of complex diseases.”

Autism Caused by Spontaneous Mutations in Key Brain Gene

09/18/2014 –

TBR1 protein configurations

TBR1 protein configurations

Mutations in the TBR1 gene affect the location of the TBR1 protein in human cells. In normal cells the TBR1 protein, shown in red, is found alongside the DNA, shown in blue. In contrast, the mutant TBR1 protein is found throughout the cell. (Source: Source: Radboud University) Spontaneous mutations in the brain gene TBR1 disrupt the function of the encoded protein in children with severe autism. In addition, there is a direct link between TBR1 and FOXP2, a well-known language-related protein. These are the main findings of an article by Pelagia Deriziotis and colleagues at the Nijmegen Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and published in Nature Communications.

Autism is a disorder of brain development which

  • leads to difficulties with social interaction and communication.

Disorders such as autism caused by gene mutation can change

  • the shape of protein molecules and
  • stop them from working properly during brain development.

Inherited genetic variants put some individuals at risk for autism.  Research in recent years has shown that

  • severe autism can result from
  • (germ-line?) mutations expressed in a child, not in either parent.

Scientists have sequenced the DNA code of thousands of unrelated children with severe autism and found a handful of genes involving independent de novo. One of these genes is

  • TBR1, a key gene in brain development.

Strong impact on protein function

In their study, Deriziotis and colleagues from the MPI’s Language and Genetics Department and the University of Washington investigated the

  • effects of autism risk mutations on TBR1 protein function.

They used several cutting-edge techniques to examine how these mutations affect the way the TBR1 protein works, using human cells grown in the laboratory.

“We directly compared de novo and inherited mutations, and found that the de novo mutations had much more

  • dramatic effects on TBR1 protein function,”

said Deriziotis, “This is a really striking confirmation of the strong impact that de novo mutations can have on early brain development.”

Social network for proteins

Since the human brain depends on many different genes and proteins working together, the researchers were interested in

  • identifying proteins that interact with TBR1.

They discovered that

  • TBR1 directly interacts with FOXP2,
  • an important protein in speech and language disorders,
  • pathogenic mutations affecting either of these proteins
    • abolish the mutual interaction.

FOXP2 is one of the few proteins to have been clearly implicated in speech and language disorders.

Simon Fisher, professor of Language and Genetics at Radboud University and director at the MPI, said that they are building

  • a picture of the neurogenetic pathways contributing to human traits
  • by coupling data from genome screening with functional analysis in the lab

Source: Radboud University

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