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Archive for the ‘Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’ Category


Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

Over the past 20 years, studies have shown that girls and possibly boys have been experiencing puberty at progressively younger ages. This is troubling news, as earlier age at puberty has been linked with increased risk of mental illness, breast and ovarian cancer in girls and testicular cancer in boys. Researchers found that daughters of mothers who had higher levels of diethyl phthalate and triclosan in their bodies during pregnancy experienced puberty at younger ages. The same trend was not observed in boys. So, researchers suspected that girls exposed to chemicals commonly found in toothpaste, makeup, soap and other personal care products before birth may hit puberty earlier.

 

Diethyl phthalate is often used as a stabilizer in fragrances and cosmetics. The antimicrobial agent triclosan — which the FDA banned from use in hand soap in 2017 because it was shown to be ineffective — is still used in some toothpastes. Researchers suspected that many chemicals in personal care products can interfere with natural hormones in human bodies, and studies have shown that exposure to these chemicals can alter reproductive development in rats. Chemicals that have been implicated include phthalates, which are often found in scented products like perfumes, soaps and shampoos; parabens, which are used as preservatives in cosmetics; and phenols, which include triclosan.

 

However, few studies have looked at how these chemicals might affect the growth of human children. This present study at UC Berkeley, USA recruited pregnant women living in the farm-working, primarily Latino communities of Central California’s Salinas Valley between 1999 and 2000. While the primary aim of the study was to examine the impact of pesticide exposure on childhood development, the researchers used the opportunity to examine the effects of other chemicals as well. The scientists measured concentrations of phthalates, parabens and phenols in urine samples taken from mothers twice during pregnancy, and from children at the age of 9. They then followed the growth of the children — 159 boys and 179 girls — between the ages of 9 and 13 to track the timing of developmental milestones marking different stages of puberty.

 

The vast majority — more than 90 percent — of urine samples of both mothers and children showed detectable concentrations of all three classes of chemicals, with the exception of triclosan which was present in approximately 70 percent of samples. The researchers found that every time the concentrations of diethyl phthalate and triclosan in the mother’s urine doubled, the timing of developmental milestones in girls shifted approximately one month earlier. Girls who had higher concentrations of parabens in their urine at age 9 also experienced puberty at younger ages. However, it is unclear if the chemicals were causing the shift, or if girls who reached puberty earlier were more likely to start using personal care products at younger ages.

 

The limitations are that these chemicals are quickly metabolized and one to two urinary measurements per developmental point may not accurately reflect usual exposure. The study population was limited to Latino children of low socioeconomic status living in a farmworker community and may not be widely generalizable. But, this study contributes to a growing literature that suggests that exposure to certain endocrine disrupting chemicals may impact timing of puberty in children.

 

References:

 

https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/prenatal-exposure-chemicals-personal-care-products-may-speed-puberty-girls?utm_source=fiat-lux

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30517665

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24781428

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30203993

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25173057

 

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Using “Cerebral Organoids” to Trace the Elemental Composition of a Developing Brain

Curator: Marzan Khan, B.Sc

A research focused on the detection of micronutrient accumulation in the developing brain has been conducted recently by a team of scientific researchers in Brazil(1). Their study was comprised of a cutting-edge technology human cerebral organoids, which are a close equivalent of the embryonic brain, in in-vitro models to identify some of the minerals essential during brain development using synchroton radiation(1). Since the majority of studies done on this matter have relied on samples from animal models, the adult brain or post-mortem tissue, this technique has been dubbed the “closest and most complete study system to date for understanding human neural development and its pathological manifestations”(2).

Cerebral organoids are three-dimensional miniature structures derived from human pluripotent stem cells that further differentiate into structures closely resembling the developing brain(2). Concentrating on two different time points during the developmental progression, the researchers illustrated the micronutrient content during an interval of high cell division marked on day 30 as well as day 40 when the organoids were starting to become mature neurons that secrete neurotransmitters, arranging into layers and forming synapses(2).

Synchrotron radiation X-ray fluorescence (SR-XRF) spectroscopy was used to discern each type of element present(2). After an incident beam of X-ray was directed at the sample, each atom emitted a distinct photon signature(2). Phosphorus (P), Potassium (P), Sulphur (S), Calcium (Ca), Iron (Fe), and Zinc (Zn) were found to be present in the samples in significant concentrations(2). Manganese (Mn), Nickel (Ni) and Copper (Cu) were also detected, but in negligible amounts, and therefore tagged as “ultratrace” elements(2). The distribution of these minerals, their concentration as well as their occurrence in pairs were examined at each interval(2).

Phosphorus was discovered to be the most abundant element in the cerebral organoid samples(3). Between the two time points at 30 days (cell proliferation) and 45 days (neuronal maturation) there was a marked decrease in P content(2). Since phosphorus is a major component of nucleotides and phospholipids, this reduction was clarified as a shift from a stage of cell division that requires the production of DNA and phospholipids, to a migratory and differentiation phase(2). Potassium levels were maintained during both phases, substantiating its role in mitotic cell division as well as cell migration over long distances(2). Sulfur levels were reportedly high at 30 days and 45 days(2). It was hypothesized that this element was responsible for the patterning of the organoids(2). Calcium, known to control transcription factors involved in neuronal differentiation and survival were detected in the micromolar range, along with zinc and iron(2). Zinc commits the differentiation of pluripotent stem cells into neuronal cells and iron is necessary for neuronal tissue expansion(2).

The cells in an embryo start to differentiate very early on- the neural plate is formed on the 16th day of contraception, which further folds and bulges out to become the nervous system (containing the brain and spinal cord regions)(3). Nutrients obtained from the mother are the primary sources of diet and energy for a developing embryo to fully differentiate and specialize into different organs(2). Lack of proper nutrition in pregnant mothers has been linked to many neurodegenerative diseases occurring in their progeny(2). Spina bifida which is characterized by the incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord, is a classic example of maternal malnutrition(2,4). Paucity of minerals in the diet of pregnant women are known to hamper learning and memory in children(2). Even Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease have been associated to malnourishment(2). By showing the different types of elements present in statistically significant concentrations in cerebral organoids, the results of this study underscore the necessity of a healthy nourishment available to mothers during pregnancy for optimal development of the fetal brain(2).

References:

1.Kenny Walter. 02/10/2017. Study focuses on Microcutrients in Human Minibrains. RandDMagazine.http://www.rdmag.com/article/2017/02/study-focuses-micronutrients-human-minibrains?et_cid=5825577&et_rid=461755519&type=cta&et_cid=5825577&et_rid=461755519&linkid=conten

2.Sartore RC, Cardoso SC, Lages YVM, Paraguassu JM, Stelling MP, Madeiro da Costa RF, Guimaraes MZ, Pérez CA, Rehen SK.(2017)Trace elements during primordial plexiform network formation in human cerebral organoids. PeerJ 5:e2927https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.292

3.Fetal Development: Baby’s Nervous System and Brain; What to expect; 20/07/201. http://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/fetal-brain-nervous-system/

4. Spina Bifida Fact Sheet; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892

https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Spina-Bifida-Fact-Sheet

Other related articles published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal include the following:

 

Zinc-Finger Nucleases (ZFNs) and Transcription Activator–Like Effector Nucleases (TALENs)

Reporter: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/03/04/talens-and-zfns/

 

Calcium Regulation Key Mechanism Discovered: New Potential for Neuro-degenerative Diseases Drug Development

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD., RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/01/17/calcium-regulation-key-mechanism-discovered-new-potential-for-neuro-degenerative-diseases-drug-development/

 

How Methionine Imbalance with Sulfur-Insufficiency Leads to Hyperhomocysteinemia

Curator: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FACP

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/04/04/sulfur-deficiency-leads_to_hyperhomocysteinemia/

 

Erythropoietin (EPO) and Intravenous Iron (Fe) as Therapeutics for Anemia in Severe and Resistant CHF: The Elevated N-terminal proBNP Biomarker

Co-Author of the FIRST Article: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

Reviewer and Curator of the SECOND and of the THIRD Articles: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

Article Architecture Curator: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD., RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/12/10/epo-as-therapeutics-for-anemia-in-chf/

 

The relationship of S amino acids to marasmic and kwashiorkor PEM

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2015/10/24/the-relationship-of-s-amino-acids-to-marasmic-and-kwashiorkor-pem/

 

Mutations in a Sodium-gated Potassium Channel Subunit Gene related to a subset of severe Nocturnal Frontal Lobe Epilepsy

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD., RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2012/10/22/mutations-in-a-sodium-gated-potassium-channel-subunit-gene-to-a-subset-of-severe-nocturnal-frontal-lobe-epilepsy/

 

Copper and its role on “progressive neurodegeneration” and death

Reported by: Dr. Venkat S. Karra, Ph.D.

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2012/08/14/copper-and-its-role-on-progressive-neurodegeneration-and-death/

 

Metabolomics, Metabonomics and Functional Nutrition: the next step in nutritional metabolism and biotherapeutics

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

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/08/22/metabolomics-metabonomics-and-functional-nutrition-the-next-step-in-nutritional-metabolism-and-biotherapeutics/

 

Nutrition and Aging

Curator: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2015/10/25/nutrition-and-aging/

 

The Three Parent Technique to Avoid Mitochondrial Disease in Embryo

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2016/10/07/the-three-parent-technique-to-avoid-mitochondrial-disease-in-embryo/

 

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

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

LPBI

 

Frankenstein Proteins Stitched Together by Scientists

http://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/frankenstein-proteins-stitched-together-by-scientists/81252715/

http://www.genengnews.com/Media/images/GENHighlight/thumb_May11_2016_Wikipedia_1831Frankenstein2192501426.jpg

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

http://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/histone-mutation-deranges-dna-methylation-to-cause-cancer/81252723/

http://www.genengnews.com/Media/images/GENHighlight/thumb_May13_2016_RockefellerUniv_ChildhoodSarcoma1293657114.jpg

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!

 

http://www.genengnews.com/Media/images/GENHighlight/thumb_fx11801711851.jpg
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

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/46077/title/Mysterious-Eukaryote-Missing-Mitochondria

http://www.the-scientist.com/images/News/May2016/620_Monocercomonides-Pa203.jpg

Monocercomonoides sp. PA203VLADIMIR HAMPL, CHARLES UNIVERSITY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

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

PDF (2 MB)   Extended PDF (2 MB)  Download Images(.ppt)  About Images & Usage

Highlights

  • 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.

http://www.cell.com/cms/attachment/2056332410/2061316405/fx1.jpg

 

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.

http://www.technologynetworks.com/Proteomics/news.aspx?ID=191122

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.

http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2016/160428/ncomms11416/images_article/ncomms11416-f1.jpg

 

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

http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2016/160428/ncomms11416/images_article/ncomms11416-f3.jpg

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

http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2016/160428/ncomms11416/images_article/ncomms11416-f4.jpg

….

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

http://www.technologynetworks.com/Proteomics/news.aspx?ID=191268

 

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.

http://www.nature.com/article-assets/npg/srep/2016/160114/srep19164/images_hires/m685/srep19164-f3.jpg

 

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.

http://www.technologynetworks.com/Proteomics/news.aspx?id=190995

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

http://www.nature.com/article-assets/npg/npjschz/2016/npjschz201612/images_hires/w582/npjschz201612-f1.jpg

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.

http://www.nature.com/article-assets/npg/npjschz/2016/npjschz201612/images_hires/m685/npjschz201612-f2.jpg

 

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

http://www.kurzweilai.net/this-vitamin-stops-the-aging-process-in-organs-say-swiss-researchers

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.

references:

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
    
    doi:10.1038/ng.3539

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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Schizophrenia, broken-links

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

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

http://www.newyorker.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/160328_r27877-690.jpg

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?”

 https://youtu.be/6DOYTpXkLOY

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?

https://d267cvn3rvuq91.cloudfront.net/i/images/glia33.jpg?sw=590&cx=0&cy=0&cw=2106&ch=2106

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

Abstract

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

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/45189/title/Schizophrenia-and-the-Synapse/

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.

  1. Cannon, T. D. et al. Cortex mapping reveals regionally specific patterns of genetic and disease-specific gray-matter deficits in twins discordant for schizophrenia. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 99, 3228–3233 (2002)
  1. Cannon, T. D. et al. Progressive reduction in cortical thickness as psychosis develops: a multisite longitudinal neuroimaging study of youth at elevated clinical risk. Biol. Psychiatry 77,147–157 (2015)
  1. Garey, L. J. et al. Reduced dendritic spine density on cerebral cortical pyramidal neurons in schizophrenia. J. Neurol. Neurosurg. Psychiatry 65, 446–453 (1998)
  1. Glantz, L. A. & Lewis, D. A. Decreased dendritic spine density on prefrontal cortical pyramidal neurons in schizophrenia. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 57, 65–73 (2000)
  1. Glausier, J. R. & Lewis, D. A. Dendritic spine pathology in schizophrenia. Neuroscience 251,90–107 (2013)
  1. Schizophrenia Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. Biological insights from 108 schizophrenia-associated genetic loci. Nature 511, 421–427 (2014)
  1. Shi, J. et al. Common variants on chromosome 6p22.1 are associated with schizophrenia. Nature 460, 753–757 (2009)
  1. Stefansson, H. et al. Common variants conferring risk of schizophrenia. Nature 460,744–747 (2009)
  1. International Schizophrenia Consortium et al. Common polygenic variation contributes to risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Nature 460, 748–752 (2009)
  1. Schizophrenia Psychiatric Genome-Wide Association Study Consortium. Genome-wide association study identifies five new schizophrenia loci. Nature Genet . 43, 969–976 (2011)

 

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).
  2. Stevens, B. et alCell131, 1164–1178 (2007).
  3. Cannon, T. D. et al Psychiatry77, 147–157 (2015).
  4. Glausier, J. R. & Lewis, D. A. Neuroscience251, 90–107 (2013).
  5. Glantz, L. A. & Lewis, D. A.  Gen. Psychiatry57, 65–73 (2000).

 

 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.

Letter

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.

 

Letter

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 |

 

Letter

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.”

 

 

UniProtKB

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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Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

Schizophrenia and the Synapse

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

By Ruth Williams | January 27, 2016 … more follows)

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/45189/title/Schizophrenia-and-the-Synapse/

http://www.the-scientist.com/images/News/January2016/Schizophrenia.jpg

C4 (green) at synapses of human neurons

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 C4gene 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.”

A. Sekar et al., “Schizophrenia risk from complexvariation of complement component 4,”Nature,   http://dx.doi.com:/10.1038/nature16549, 2016.     

Tags schizophrenia, neuroscience, gwas, genetics & genomics, disease/medicine and cell & molecular biology

 

Schizophrenia: From genetics to physiology at last

Ryan S. Dhindsa& David B. Goldstein

Nature (2016)  http://dx.doi.org://10.1038/nature16874

The identification of a set of genetic variations that are strongly associated with the risk of developing schizophrenia provides insights into the neurobiology of this destructive disease.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/health/schizophrenia-cause-synaptic-pruning-brain-psychiatry.html

 

Genetic study provides first-ever insight into biological origin of schizophrenia

Suspect gene may trigger runaway synaptic pruning during adolescence — NIH-funded study

NIH/NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MENTAL HEALTH

IMAGE

http://media.eurekalert.org/multimedia_prod/pub/web/107629_web.jpg

The site in Chromosome 6 harboring the gene C4 towers far above other risk-associated areas on schizophrenia’s genomic “skyline,” marking its strongest known genetic influence. The new study is the first to explain how specific gene versions work biologically to confer schizophrenia risk.  CREDIT  Psychiatric Genomics Consortium

Versions of a gene linked to schizophrenia may trigger runaway pruning of the teenage brain’s still-maturing communications infrastructure, NIH-funded researchers have discovered. People with the illness show fewer such connections between neurons, or synapses. The gene switched on more in people with the suspect versions, who faced a higher risk of developing the disorder, characterized by hallucinations, delusions and impaired thinking and emotions.

“Normally, pruning gets rid of excess connections we no longer need, streamlining our brain for optimal performance, but too much pruning can impair mental function,” explained Thomas Lehner, Ph.D., director of the Office of Genomics Research Coordination of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which co-funded the study along with the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute and other NIH components. “It could help explain schizophrenia’s delayed age-of-onset of symptoms in late adolescence/early adulthood and shrinkage of the brain’s working tissue. Interventions that put the brakes on this pruning process-gone-awry could prove transformative.”

The gene, called C4 (complement component 4), sits in by far the tallest tower on schizophrenia’s genomic “skyline” (see graph below) of more than 100 chromosomal sites harboring known genetic risk for the disorder. Affecting about 1 percent of the population, schizophrenia is known to be as much as 90 percent heritable, yet discovering how specific genes work to confer risk has proven elusive, until now.

A team of scientists led by Steve McCarroll, Ph.D., of the Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School, Boston, leveraged the statistical power conferred by analyzing the genomes of 65,000 people, 700 postmortem brains, and the precision of mouse genetic engineering to discover the secrets of schizophrenia’s strongest known genetic risk. C4’s role represents the most compelling evidence, to date, linking specific gene versions to a biological process that could cause at least some cases of the illness.

“Since schizophrenia was first described over a century ago, its underlying biology has been a black box, in part because it has been virtually impossible to model the disorder in cells or animals,” said McCarroll. “The human genome is providing a powerful new way in to this disease. Understanding these genetic effects on risk is a way of prying open that block box, peering inside and starting to see actual biological mechanisms.”

McCarroll’s team, including Harvard colleagues Beth Stevens, Ph.D., Michael Carroll, Ph.D., and Aswin Sekar, report on their findings online Jan. 27, 2016 in the journal Nature.

A swath of chromosome 6 encompassing several genes known to be involved in immune function emerged as the strongest signal associated with schizophrenia risk in genome-wide analyses by the NIMH-funded Psychiatric Genomics Consortium over the past several years. Yet conventional genetics failed to turn up any specific gene versions there linked to schizophrenia.

To discover how the immune-related site confers risk for the mental disorder, McCarroll’s team mounted a search for “cryptic genetic influences” that might generate “unconventional signals.” C4, a gene with known roles in immunity, emerged as a prime suspect because it is unusually variable across individuals. It is not unusual for people to have different numbers of copies of the gene and distinct DNA sequences that result in the gene working differently.

The researchers dug deeply into the complexities of how such structural variation relates to the gene’s level of expression and how that, in turn, might relate to schizophrenia. They discovered structurally distinct versions that affect expression of two main forms of the gene in the brain. The more a version resulted in expression of one of the forms, called C4A, the more it was associated with schizophrenia. The more a person had the suspect versions, the more C4 switched on and the higher their risk of developing schizophrenia. Moreover, in the human brain, the C4 protein turned out to be most prevalent in the cellular machinery that supports connections between neurons.

Adapting mouse molecular genetics techniques for studying synaptic pruning and C4’s role in immune function, the researchers also discovered a previously unknown role for C4 in brain development. During critical periods of postnatal brain maturation, C4 tags a synapse for pruning by depositing a sister protein in it called C3. Again, the more C4 got switched on, the more synapses got eliminated.

In humans, such streamlining/pruning occurs as the brain develops to full maturity in the late teens/early adulthood – conspicuously corresponding to the age-of-onset of schizophrenia symptoms.

Future treatments designed to suppress excessive levels of pruning by counteracting runaway C4 in at risk individuals might nip in the bud a process that could otherwise develop into psychotic illness, suggest the researchers. And thanks to the head start gained in understanding the role of such complement proteins in immune function, such agents are already in development, they note.

“This study marks a crucial turning point in the fight against mental illness. It changes the game,” added acting NIMH director Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D. “Thanks to this genetic breakthrough, we can finally see the potential for clinical tests, early detection, new treatments and even prevention.”

###

VIDEO: Opening Schizophrenia’s Black Box https://youtu.be/s0y4equOTLg

Reference: Sekar A, Biala AR, de Rivera H, Davis A, Hammond TR, Kamitaki N, Tooley K Presumey J Baum M, Van Doren V, Genovese G, Rose SA, Handsaker RE, Schizophrenia Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, Daly MJ, Carroll MC, Stevens B, McCarroll SA. Schizophrenia risk from complex variation of complement component 4.Nature. Jan 27, 2016. DOI: 10.1038/nature16549.

 

Schizophrenia risk from complex variation of complement component 4

Aswin SekarAllison R. BialasHeather de RiveraAvery DavisTimothy R. Hammond, …., Michael C. CarrollBeth Stevens Steven A. McCarroll

Nature(2016)   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.

Figure 1: Structural variation of the complement component 4 (C4) gene.

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/carousel/nature16549-f1.jpg

a, Location of the C4 genes within the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) locus on human chromosome 6. b, Human C4 exists as two paralogous genes (isotypes), C4A and C4B; the encoded proteins are distinguished at a key site

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/carousel/nature16549-f3.jpg

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/carousel/nature16549-sf8.jpg

Gene Study Points Toward Therapies for Common Brain Disorders

University of Edinburgh    http://www.dddmag.com/news/2016/01/gene-study-points-toward-therapies-common-brain-disorders

Scientists have pinpointed the cells that are likely to trigger common brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis and intellectual disabilities.

It is the first time researchers have been able to identify the particular cell types that malfunction in a wide range of brain diseases.

Scientists say the findings offer a roadmap for the development of new therapies to target the conditions.

The researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences used advanced gene analysis techniques to investigate which genes were switched on in specific types of brain cells.

They then compared this information with genes that are known to be linked to each of the most common brain conditions — Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety disorders, autism, intellectual disability, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and epilepsy.

Their findings reveal that for some conditions, the support cells rather than the neurons that transmit messages in the brain are most likely to be the first affected.

Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is characterised by damage to the neurons. Previous efforts to treat the condition have focused on trying to repair this damage.

The study found that a different cell type — called microglial cells — are responsible for triggering Alzheimer’s and that damage to the neurons is a secondary symptom of disease progression.

Researchers say that developing medicines that target microglial cells could offer hope for treating the illness.

The approach could also be used to find new treatment targets for other diseases that have a genetic basis, the researchers say.

Dr Nathan Skene, who carried out the study with Professor Seth Grant, said: “The brain is the most complex organ made up from a tangle of many cell types and sorting out which of these cells go wrong in disease is of critical importance to developing new medicines.”

Professor Seth Grant said: “We are in the midst of scientific revolution where advanced molecular methods are disentangling the Gordian Knot of the brain and completely unexpected new pathways to solving diseases are emerging. There is a pressing need to exploit the remarkable insights from the study.”

 

Quantitative multimodal multiparametric imaging in Alzheimer’s disease

Qian Zhao, Xueqi Chen, Yun Zhou      Brain Informatics  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40708-015-0028-9

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, causing changes in memory, thinking, and other dysfunction of brain functions. More and more people are suffering from the disease. Early neuroimaging techniques of AD are needed to develop. This review provides a preliminary summary of the various neuroimaging techniques that have been explored for in vivo imaging of AD. Recent advances in magnetic resonance (MR) techniques, such as functional MR imaging (fMRI) and diffusion MRI, give opportunities to display not only anatomy and atrophy of the medial temporal lobe, but also at microstructural alterations or perfusion disturbance within the AD lesions. Positron emission tomography (PET) imaging has become the subject of intense research for the diagnosis and facilitation of drug development of AD in both animal models and human trials due to its non-invasive and translational characteristic. Fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) PET and amyloid PET are applied in clinics and research departments. Amyloid beta (Aβ) imaging using PET has been recognized as one of the most important methods for the early diagnosis of AD, and numerous candidate compounds have been tested for Aβ imaging. Besides in vivo imaging method, a lot of ex vivo modalities are being used in the AD researches. Multiphoton laser scanning microscopy, neuroimaging of metals, and several metal bioimaging methods are also mentioned here. More and more multimodality and multiparametric neuroimaging techniques should improve our understanding of brain function and open new insights into the pathophysiology of AD. We expect exciting results will emerge from new neuroimaging applications that will provide scientific and medical benefits.

Keywords –   Alzheimer’s disease Neuroimaging PET MRI Amyloid beta Multimodal

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that gradually destroys brain cells, causing changes in memory, thinking, and other dysfunction of brain functions [1]. AD is considered to a prolonged preclinical stage where neuropathological changes precede the clinical symptoms [2]. An estimation of 35 million people worldwide is living with this disease. If effective treatments are not discovered in a timely fashion, the number of AD cases is anticipated to rise to 113 million by 2050 [3].

Amyloid beta (Aβ) and tau are two of the major biomarkers of AD, and have important and different roles in association with the progression of AD pathophysiology. Jack et al. established hypothetical models of the major biomarkers of AD. By renewing and modifying the models, they found that the two major proteinopathies underlying AD biomarker changes, Aβ and tau, may be initiated independently in late onset AD where they hypothesize that an incident Aβ pathophysiology can accelerate an antecedent limbic and brainstem tauopathy [4]. MRI technique was used in the article, which revealed that the level of Aβ load was associated with a shorter time-to-progression of AD [5]. This warrants an urgent need to develop early neuroimaging techniques of AD neuropathology that can detect and predict the disease before the onset of dementia, monitor therapeutic efficacy in halting and slowing down progression in the earlier stage of the disease.

There have been various reports on the imaging assessments of AD. Some measurements reflect the pathology of AD directly, including positron emission tomography (PET) amyloid imaging and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) beta-amyloid 42 (Aβ42), while others reflect neuronal injury associated with AD indirectly, including CSF tau (total and phosphorylated tau), fluorodeoxy-d-glucose (FDG)-PET, and MRI. AD Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) has been to establish the optimal panel of clinical assessments, MRI and PET imaging measures, as well as other biomarkers from blood and CSF, to inform clinical trial design for AD therapeutic development. At the same time, it has been highly productive in generating a wealth of data for elucidating disease mechanisms occurring during early stages of preclinical and prodromal AD [6].

Single neuroimaging often reflects limit information of AD. As a result, multimodal neuroimaging is widely used in neuroscience researches, as it overcomes the limitations of individual modalities. Multimodal multiparametric imaging mean the combination of different imaging techniques, such as PET, MRI, simultaneously or separately. The multimodal multiparametric imaging enables the visualization and quantitative analysis of the alterations in brain structure and function, such as PET/CT, and PET/MRI. [7]. In this review article, we summarize and discuss the main applications, findings, perspectives as well as advantages and challenges of different neuroimaging in AD, especially MRI and PET imaging.

2 Magnetic resonance imaging

MRI demonstrates specific volume loss or cortical atrophy patterns with disease progression in AD patients [810]. There are several MRI techniques and analysis methods used in clinical and scientific research of AD. Recent advances in MR techniques, such as functional MRI (fMRI) and diffusion MRI, depict not only anatomy and atrophy of the medial temporal lobe (MTL), but also microstructural alterations or perfusion disturbance within this region.

2.1 Functional MRI

Because of the cognitive reserve (CR), the relationship between severity of AD patients’ brain damage and corresponding clinical symptoms is not always paralleled [11, 12]. Recently, resting-state fMRI (RS-fMRI) is popular for its ability to map brain functional connectivity non-invasively [13]. By using RS-fMRI, Bozzali et al. reported that the CR played a role in modulating the effect of AD pathology on default mode network functional connectivity, which account for the variable clinical symptoms of AD [14]. Moreover, AD patients with higher educated experience were able to recruit compensatory neural mechanisms, which can be measured using RS-fMRI. Arterial spin-labeled (ASL) MRI is another functional brain imaging modality, which measures cerebral blood flow (CBF) by magnetically labeled arterial blood water following through the carotid and vertebral arteries as an endogenous contrast medium. Several studies have concluded the characteristics of CBF changes in AD patients using ASL-MRI [1517].

At some point in time, sufficient brain damage accumulates to result in cognitive symptoms and impairment. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition in which subjects are usually only mildly impaired in memory with relative preservation of other cognitive domains and functional activities and do not meet the criteria for dementia [18], or as the prodromal state AD [19]. MCI patients are at a higher risk of developing AD and up to 15 % convert to AD per year [18]. Binnewijzend et al. have reported the pseudocontinuous ASL could distinguish both MCI and AD from healthy controls, and be used in the early diagnosis of AD [20]. In their continuous study, they used quantitative whole brain pseudocontinuous ASL to compare regional CBF (rCBF) distribution patterns in different types of dementia, and concluded that ASL-MRI could be a non-invasive and easily accessible alternative to FDG-PET imaging in the assessment of CBF of AD patients [21].

2.2 Structure MRI

Structural MRI (sMRI) has already been a reliable imaging method in the clinical diagnosis of AD, characterized as gray matter reduction and ventricular enlargement in standard T1-weighted sequences [9]. Locus coeruleus (LC) and substantia nigra (SN) degeneration was seen in AD. By using new quantitative calculating method, Chen et al. presented a new quantitative neuromelanin MRI approach for simultaneous measurement of locus LC and SN of brainstem in living human subjects [22]. The approach they used demonstrated advantages in image acquisition, pre-processing, and quantitative analysis. Numerous transgenic animal models of amyloidosis are available, which can manipulate a lot of neuropathological features of AD progression from the deposition of β-amyloid [23]. Braakman et al. demonstrated the dynamics of amyloid plaque formation and development in a serial MRI study in a transgenic mouse model [24]. Increased iron accumulation in gray matter is frequently observed in AD. Because of the paramagnetic nature of iron, MRI shows nice potential in the investigating iron levels in AD [25]. Quantitative MRI was shown high sensitivity and specificity in mapping cerebral iron deposition, and helped in the research on AD diagnosis [26].

The imaging patterns are always associated with the pathologic changes, such as specific protein markers. Spencer et al. manifested the relationship between quantitative T1 and T2 relaxation time changes and three immunohistochemical markers: β-amyloid, neuron-specific nuclear protein (a marker of neuronal cell load), and myelin basic protein (a marker of myelin load) in AD transgenic mice [27].

High-field MRI has been successfully applied to imaging plaques in transgenic mice for over a decade without contrast agents [24, 2830]. Sillerud et al. devised a method using blood–brain barrier penetrating, amyloid-targeted, superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) for better imaging of amyloid plaque [31]. Then, they successfully used this SPION-MRI to assess the drug efficacy on the 3D distribution of Aβ plaques in transgenic AD mouse [32].

2.3 Diffusion MRI

Diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) is a sensitive tool that allows quantifying of physiologic alterations in water diffusion, which result from microscopic structural changes.

Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is a well-established and commonly employed diffusion MRI technique in clinical and research on neuroimaging studies, which is based on a Gaussian model of diffusion processes [33]. In general, AD is associated with widespread reduced fractional anisotropy (FA) and increased mean diffusivity (MD) in several regions, most prominently in the frontal and temporal lobes, and along the cingulum, corpus callosum, uncinate fasciculus, superior longitudinal fasciculus, and MTL-associated tracts than healthy controls [3437]. Acosta-Cabronero et al. reported increased axial diffusivity and MD in the splenium, which were the earliest abnormalities in AD [38]. FA and radial diffusivity (DR) differences in the corpus callosum, cingulum, and fornix were found to separate individuals with MCI who converted to AD from non-converters [39]. DTI was also found to be a better predictor of AD-specific MTL atrophy when compared to CSF biomarkers [40]. These findings suggested the potential clinical utility of DTI as early biomarkers of AD and its progression. However, an increase in MD and DR and a decrease in FA with advancing age in selective brain regions have been previously reported [41, 42]. Diffusion MRI can be also used in the classifying of various stages of AD. Multimodal classification method, which combined fMRI and DTI, separated more MCI from healthy controls than single approaches [43].

In recent years, tau has emerged as a potential target for therapeutic intervention. Tau plays a critical role in the neurodegenerative process forming neurofibrillary tangles, which is a major hallmark of AD and correlates with clinical disease progression. Wells et al. applied multiparametric MRI, containing high-resolution structure MRI (sMRI), a novel chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) MRI, DTI, and ASL, and glucose CEST to measure changes of tau pathology in AD transgenic mouse [44].

Besides DWI MRI, perfusion-weighted imaging (PWI) is another advanced MR technique, which could measure the cerebral hemodynamics at the capillary level. Zimny et al. evaluated the correlation of MTL with both DWI and PWI in AD and MCI patients [45].

3 Positron emission tomography

PET is a specific imaging technique applying in researches of brain function and neurochemistry of small animals, medium-sized animals, and human subjects [4648]. As a particular brain imaging technique, PET imaging has become the subject of intense research for the diagnosis and facilitation of drug development of AD in both animal models and human trials due to its non-invasive and translational characteristic. PET with various radiotracers is considered as a standard non-invasive quantitative imaging technique to measure CBF, glucose metabolism, and β-amyloid and tau deposition.

3.1 FDG-PET

To date, 18F-FDG is one of the best and widely used neuroimaging tracers of PET, which employed for research and clinical assessment of AD [49]. Typical lower FDG metabolism was shown in the precuneus, posterior cingulate, and temporal and parietal cortex with progression to whole brain reductions with increasing disease progress in AD brains [50, 51]. FDG-PET imaging reflects the cerebral glucose metabolism, neuronal injury, which provides indirect evidence on cognitive function and progression that cannot be provided by amyloid PET imaging.

Schraml et al. [52] identified a significant association between hypometabolic convergence index and phenotypes using ADNI data. Some researchers also used 18F-FDG-PET to analyze genetic information with multiple biomarkers to classify AD status, predicting cognitive decline or MCI to AD conversion [5355]. Trzepacz et al. [56] reported multimodal AD neuroimaging study, using MRI, 11C-PiB PET, and 18F-FDG-PET imaging to predict MCI conversion to AD along with APOE genotype. Zhang et al. [57] compared the genetic modality single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) with sMRI, 18F-FDG-PET, and CSF biomarkers, which were used to differentiate healthy control, MCI, and AD. They found FDG-PET is the best modality in terms of accuracy.

3.2 Amyloid beta PET

Aβ, the primary constituent of senile plaques, and tau tangles are hypothesized to play a primary role in the pathogenesis of AD, but it is still hard to identify the fundamental mechanisms [5860]. Aβ plaque in brain is one of the pathological hallmarks of AD [61,62]. Accumulation of Aβ peptide in the cerebral cortex is considered one cause of dementia in AD [63]. Numerous studies have involved in vivo PET imaging assessing cortical β-amyloid burden [6466].

Aβ imaging using PET has been recognized as one of the most important methods for the early diagnosis of AD [67]. Numerous candidate compounds have been tested for Aβ imaging, such as 11C-PiB [68], 18F-FDDNP [69], 11C-SB-13 [70], 18F-BAY94-9172 [71], 18F-AV-45 [72], 18F-flutemetamol [73, 74], 11C-AZD2184 [75], and 18F-ADZ4694 [76], 11C-BF227 and 18F-FACT [77].

Several amyloid PET studies examined genotypes, phenotypes, or gene–gene interactions. Ramanan et al. [78] reported the GWAS results with 18F-AV-45 reflecting the cerebral amyloid metabolism in AD for the first time. Swaminathan et al. [79] revealed the association between plasma Aβ from peripheral blood and cortical amyloid deposition on 11C-PiB. Hohman et al. [80] reported the relationship between SNPs involved in amyloid and tau pathophysiology with 18F-AV-45 PET.

Among the PET tracers, 11C-PiB, which has a high affinity for fibrillar Aβ, is a reliable biomarker of underlying AD pathology [68, 81]. It shows cortical uptake well paralleled with AD pathology [82, 83], has recently been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA, April 2012) and the European Medicines Agency (January 2013). 18F-GE-067 (flutemetamol) and 18F-BAY94-9172 (florbetaben) have also been approved by the US FDA in the last 2 years [84, 85].

18F-Florbetapir (also known as 18F-AV-45) exhibits high affinity specific binding to amyloid plaques. 18F-AV-45 labels Aβ plaques in sections from patients with pathologically confirmed AD [72].

It was reported in several research groups that 18F-AV-45 PET imaging showed a reliability of both qualitative and quantitative assessments in AD patients, and Aβ+ increased with diagnostic category (healthy control < MCI < AD) [82, 86, 87]. Johnson et al. used 18F-AV-45 PET imaging to evaluate the amyloid deposition in both MCI and AD patients qualitatively and quantitatively, and found that amyloid burden increased with diagnostic category (MCI < AD), age, and APOEε4 carrier status [88]. Payoux et al. reported the equivocal amyloid PET scans using 18F-AV-45 associated with a specific pattern of clinical signs in a large population of non-demented older adults more than 70 years old [89].

More and more researchers consider combination and comparison of multiple PET tracers targeting amyloid plaque imaging together. Bruck et al. compared the prognostic ability of 11C-PiB PET, 18F-FDG-PET, and quantitative hippocampal volumes measured with MR imaging in predicting MCI to AD conversion. They found that the FDG-PET and 11C-PiB PET imaging are better in predicting MCI to AD conversion [90]. Hatashita et al. used 11C-PiB and FDG-PET imaging to identify MCI due to AD, 11C-PiB showed a higher sensitivity of 96.6 %, and FDG-PET added diagnostic value in predicting AD over a short period [91].

Besides, new Aβ imaging agents were radiosynthesized. Yousefi et al. radiosynthesized a new Aβ imaging agent 18F-FIBT, and compared the three different Aβ-targeted radiopharmaceuticals for PET imaging, including 18F-FIBT, 18F-florbetaben, and 11C-PiB [92]. 11C-AZD2184 is another new PET tracer developed for amyloid senile plaque imaging, and the kinetic behavior of 11C-AZD2184 is suitable for quantitative analysis and can be used in clinical examination without input function [75,93, 94].

4 Multimodality imaging: PET/MRI

Several diagnostic techniques, including MRI and PET, are employed for the diagnosis and monitoring of AD [95]. Multimodal imaging could provide more information in the formation and key molecular event of AD than single method. It drives the progression of neuroimaging research due to the recognition of the clinical benefits of multimodal data [96], and the better access to hybrid devices, such as PET/MRI [97].

Maier et al. evaluated the dynamics of 11C-PiB PET, 15O-H2O-PET, and ASL-MRI in transgenic AD mice and concluded that the AD-related decline of rCBF was caused by the cerebral Aβ angiopathy [98]. Edison et al. systematically compared 11C-PiB PET and MRI in AD, MCI patients, and controls. They thought that 11C-PiB PET was adequate for clinical diagnostic purpose, while MRI remained more appropriate for clinical research [99]. Zhou et al. investigated the interactions between multimodal PET/MRI in elder patients with MCI, AD, and healthy controls, and confirmed the invaluable application of amyloid PET and MRI in early diagnosis of AD [100]. Kim et al. reported that Aβ-weighted cortical thickness, which incorporates data from both MRI and amyloid PET imaging, is a consistent and objective imaging biomarker in AD [101].

5 Other imaging modalities

Multiphoton non-linear optical microscope imaging systems using ultrafast lasers have powerful advantages such as label-free detection, deep penetration of thick samples, high sensitivity, subcellular spatial resolution, 3D optical sectioning, chemical specificity, and minimum sample destruction [102, 103]. Coherent anti-Stokes–Raman scattering (CARS), two-photon excited fluorescence (TPEF), and second-harmonic generation (SHG) microscopy are the most widely used biomedical imaging techniques [104106].

 

Quantitative electroencephalographic and neuropsychological investigation of an alternative measure of frontal lobe executive functions: the Figure Trail Making Test

 Paul S. Foster, Valeria Drago, Brad J. Ferguson, Patti Kelly Harrison,David W. Harrison 

Brain Informatis    http://dx.doi.org:/10.1007/s40708-015-0025-z    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40708-015-0025-z/fulltext.html

The most frequently used measures of executive functioning are either sensitive to left frontal lobe functioning or bilateral frontal functioning. Relatively little is known about right frontal lobe contributions to executive functioning given the paucity of measures sensitive to right frontal functioning. The present investigation reports the development and initial validation of a new measure designed to be sensitive to right frontal lobe functioning, the Figure Trail Making Test (FTMT). The FTMT, the classic Trial Making Test, and the Ruff Figural Fluency Test (RFFT) were administered to 42 right-handed men. The results indicated a significant relationship between the FTMT and both the TMT and the RFFT. Performance on the FTMT was also related to high beta EEG over the right frontal lobe. Thus, the FTMT appears to be an equivalent measure of executive functioning that may be sensitive to right frontal lobe functioning. Applications for use in frontotemporal dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other patient populations are discussed.

Keywords – Frontal lobes, Executive functioning, Trail making test, Sequencing, Behavioral speed, Designs, Nonverbal, Neuropsychological assessment, Regulatory control, Effortful control

A recent survey indicated that the vast majority of neuropsychologists frequently assess executive functioning as part of their neuropsychological evaluations [1]. Surveys of neuropsychologists have indicated that the Trail Making Test (TMT), Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT), Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST), and the Stroop Color-Word Test (SCWT) are among the most commonly used instruments [1,2]. Further, the Rabin et al. [1] survey indicated that these same tests are among the most frequently used by neuropsychologists when specifically assessing executive or frontal lobe functioning. The frequent use of the TMT, WCST, and the SCWT, as well as the assumption that they are measures of executive functioning, led Demakis (2003–2004) to conduct a series of meta-analyses to determine the sensitivity of these test to detect frontal lobe dysfunction, particularly lateralized frontal lobe dysfunction. The findings indicated that the SCWT and Part A of the TMT [3], as well as the WCST [4], were all sensitive to frontal lobe dysfunction. However, only the SCWT differentiated between left and right frontal lobe dysfunction, with the worst performance among those with left frontal lobe dysfunction [3].

The finding of the Demakis [4] meta-analysis, that the WCST was not sensitive to lateralized frontal lobe dysfunction, is not surprising given the equivocal findings that have been reported. Whereas performance on the WCST is sensitive to frontal lobe dysfunction [5, 6], demonstration of lateralized frontal dysfunction has been quite problematic. Unilateral left or right dorsolateral frontal dysfunction has been associated with impaired performance on the WCST [6]. Fallgatter and Strik [7] found bilateral frontal lobe activation during performance of the WCST. However, other imaging studies have found right lateralized frontal lobe activation [8] and left lateralized frontal activation [9] in response to performance on the WCST. Further, left frontal lobe alpha power is negatively correlated with performance on the WCST [10]. Finally, patients with left frontal lobe tumors exhibit more impaired performance on the WCST than those with right frontal tumors [11].

Unlike the data for the WCST, more consistent findings have been reported regarding lateralized frontal lobe functioning for the other commonly used measures of executive functioning. For instance, as with the Demakis [3] study, many investigations have found the SCWT to be sensitive to left frontal lobe functioning, although the precise localization within the left frontal lobe has varied. Impaired performance on the SCWT results from left frontal lesions [12] and specifically from lesions localized to the left dorsolateral frontal lobe [13, 14], though bilateral frontal lesions have also yielded impaired performance [13, 14]. Further, studies using neuroimaging to investigate the neural basis of performance on the SCWT have indicated involvement of the left anterior cingulated cortex [15], left lateral prefrontal cortex [16], left inferior precentral sulcus [17], and the left dorsolateral frontal lobe [18].

Wide agreement exists among investigations of the frontal lateralization of verbal or lexical fluency to confrontation. Specifically, patients with left frontal lobe lesions are known to exhibit impaired performance on lexical fluency to confrontation tasks, relative to either patients with right frontal lesions [12, 19, 20] or controls [21]. A recent meta-analysis also indicated that the largest deficits in performance on measures of lexical fluency are associated with left frontal lobe lesions [22]. Troster et al. [23] found that, relative to patients with right pallidotomy, patients with left pallidotomy exhibited more impaired lexical fluency. Several neuroimaging investigations have further supported the role of the left frontal lobe in lexical fluency tasks [15, 2427]. Performance on lexical fluency tasks also varies as a function of lateral frontal lobe asymmetry, as assessed by electroencephalography [28].

The Trail Making Test is certainly among the most widely used tests [1] and perhaps the most widely researched. Various norms exist for the TMT (see [29]), with Tombaugh [30] providing the most recent comprehensive set of normative data. Different methods of analyzing and interpreting the data have also been proposed and used, including error analysis [13, 14, 3133], subtraction scores [13, 14, 34], and ratio scores [13, 14, 35].

Several different language versions of the test have been developed and reported, including Arabic [36], Chinese [37, 38], Greek [39], and Hebrew [40]. Numerous alternative versions of the TMT have been developed to address perceived shortcomings of the original TMT. For instance, the Symbol Trail Making Test [41] was developed to reduce the cultural confounds associated with the use of the Arabic numeral system and English alphabet in the original TMT. The Color Trails Test (CTT; [42]) was also developed to control for cultural confounds, although mixed results have been reported regarding whether the CTT is indeed analogous to the TMT [4345]. A version of the TMT for preschool children, the TRAILS-P, has also been reported [46].

Additionally, the Comprehensive Trail Making Test [47] was developed to control for perceived psychometric shortcomings of the original TMT (for a review see [48] and the Oral Trail Making Test (OTMT; [49]) was developed to reduce confounds associated with motor speed and visual search abilities, with research supporting the OTMT as an equivalent measure [50, 51]. Alternate forms of the TMT have also been developed to permit successive administrations [32, 52] and to assess the relative contributions of the requisite cognitive skills [53].

Delis et al. [54] stated that the continued development of new instrumentation for improving diagnosis and treatment is a critical undertaking in all health-related fields. Further, in their view, the field of neuropsychology has recognized the importance of continually striving to develop new clinical measures. Delis and colleagues developed the extensive Delis-Kaplan Executive Functioning System (D-KEFS; [55]) in the spirit of advancing the instrumentation of neuropsychology. The D-KEFS includes a Trail Making Test consisting of five separate conditions. The Number-Letter Switching condition involves a sequencing procedure similar to that of the classic TMT. The other four conditions are designed to assess the component processes involved in completing the Number-Letter Switching condition so that a precise analysis of the nature of any underlying dysfunction may be accomplished. Specifically, these additional components include Visual Scanning, Number Sequencing, Letter Sequencing, and Motor Speed.

Given that the TMT comprises numbers and letters and is a measure of executive functioning, it may preferentially involve the left frontal lobe. Although the literature is somewhat controversial, neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies seem to provide support for the sensitivity of the TMT to detect left frontal dysfunction [56]. Recent clinically oriented studies investigating frontal lobe involvement of the TMT using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) also support this localization [57]. Performance on Part B of the TMT improved following repetitive TMS applied to the left dorsolateral frontal lobe [57].

With 9–13-year-old boys performing TMT Part B, Weber et al. [58] found a left lateralized increase in the prefrontal cortex in deoxygenated hemoglobin, an indicator of increased oxygen consumption. Moll et al. [59] demonstrated increased activation specific to the prefrontal cortex, especially the left prefrontal region, in healthy controls performing Part B of the TMT. Foster et al. [60] found a significant positive correlation between performance on Part A of the TMT and low beta (13–21 Hz) magnitude (μV) at the left lateral frontal lobe, but not at the right lateral frontal lobe. Finally, Stuss et al. [13, 14] found that patients with left dorsolateral frontal dysfunction evidenced more errors than patients with lesions in other areas of the frontal lobes and those patients with left frontal lesions were the slowest to complete the test.

Taken together, the possibility exists that the aforementioned tests are largely associated with left frontal lobe activity and the TMT, in particular, provides information concerning mental processing speed as well as cognitive flexibility and set-shifting. While some studies have found that deficits in visuomotor set-shifting are specific to the frontal lobe damage [61], others investigators have reported such impairment in patients with posterior brain lesions and widespread cerebral dysfunctions, including cerebellar damage [62] and Alzheimer disease [63]. Thus, it remains unclear whether impairments in visuomotor set-shifting are specific to frontal lobe dysfunction or whether they are non-specific and can result from more posterior or widespread brain dysfunction.

Compared to the collective knowledge we have regarding the cognitive roles of the left frontal lobe, relatively little is known about right frontal lobe contributions to executive functioning. This is likely a result of the dearth of tests that are associated with right frontal activity. The Ruff Figural Fluency Test (RFFT; [64]) is among the few standardized tests of right frontal lobe functioning and was listed as the 14th most commonly used instrument to assess executive functioning in the Rabin et al. [1] survey. The RFFT is known to be sensitive to right frontal lobe functioning [65, 66]; see also [67] pp. 297–298), as is a measure based on the RFFT [19].

The present investigation, with the same intent and spirit as that reported by Delis et al. [54], sought to develop and initially validate a measure of right frontal lobe functioning in an effort to attain a greater understanding of right frontal contributions to executive functioning and to advance the instrumentation of neuropsychology. To meet this objective, a version of the Trail Making Test comprising figures, as opposed to numbers and letters, was developed. The TMT was used as a model for the new test, referred to as the Figure Trail Making Test (FTMT), due to the high frequency of use, the volume of research conducted, and the ease of administration of the TMT. Given that the TMT and the FTMT are both measuring executive functioning, we felt that a moderate correlation would exist between these two measures. Specifically, we hypothesized that performance on the FTMT would be positively correlated with performance on the TMT, in terms of the total time required to complete each part of the tests, an additive and subtractive score, and a ratio score. The total time required to complete each part of the FTMT was also hypothesized to be negatively correlated with the total number of unique designs produced on the RFFT and positively correlated with the number of perseverative errors committed on the RFFT and the perseverative error ratio. We also sought to determine whether the TMT and the FTMT were measuring different constructs by conducting a factor analysis, anticipating that the two tests would load on separate factors.

Additionally, we sought to obtain neurophysiological evidence that the FTMT is sensitive to right frontal lobe functioning. Specifically, we used quantitative electroencephalography (QEEG) to measure electrical activity over the left and right frontal lobes. A previous investigation we conducted found that performance on Part A of the TMT was related to left frontal lobe (F7) low beta magnitude [60]. For the present investigation, we predicted that significant negative correlations would exist between performance on Parts A and B of the TMT and both low and high beta magnitude at the F7 electrode site. We further predicted that significant negative correlations would exist between performance on Parts C and D of the FTMT and both low and high beta magnitude at the F8 electrode site.

3 Discussion

The need for additional measures of executive functions and especially instruments which may provide implications relevant to cerebral laterality is clear. There remains especially a void for neuropsychological instruments using a TMT format, which may provide information pertaining to the functional integrity of the right frontal region. Consistent with the hypotheses forwarded, significant correlations were found between performance on the TMT and the FTMT, in terms of the raw time required to complete each respective part of the tests as well as the additive and subtraction scores. The fact that the ratio scores were not significantly correlated is not surprising given that research has generally indicated a lack of clinical utility for this score [13, 14, 35]. Given the present findings, the TMT and the FTMT appear to be equivalent measures of executive functioning. Further, the present findings not only suggest that the FTMT may be a measure of executive functioning but also extend the realm of executive functioning to the sequencing and set-shifting of nonverbal stimuli.

However, the finding of significant correlations between the TMT and the FTMT represents somewhat of a caveat in that the TMT has been found to be sensitive to left frontal lobe functioning [13, 14, 57, 59]. This would seem to suggest the possibility that the FTMT is also sensitive to left frontal lobe functioning. The possibility that FTMT is related to left frontal lobe functioning is tempered, though, by the fact that the many of the hypothesized correlations between performance on the RFFT and the FTMT were also significant. Performance on the RFFT is related to right frontal lobe functioning [65,66]. Thus, the significant correlations between the RFFT and the FTMT suggest that the FTMT may also be sensitive to right frontal lobe functioning. Additionally, it should also be noted that the TMT was not significantly correlated with performance on the RFFT, with the exception of the significant correlation between performance on the TMT Part A and the total number of unique designs produced on the RFFT. Taken together, the results suggest that the FTMT may be a measure of right frontal executive functioning.

Additional support for the sensitivity of the FTMT to right frontal lobe functioning is provided by the finding of a significant negative correlation between performance on Part D of the FTMT and high beta magnitude. We have previously used QEEG to provide neurophysiological validation of the RFFT [65] and the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test [70] and the present findings provide further support for the use of QEEG in validating neuropsychological tests. The lack of significant correlations between the TMT and either low or high beta magnitude may be related to a restricted range of scores on the TMT. As a whole, performance on the FTMT was more variable than performance on the TMT and this relatively restricted range for the TMT may have impacted the obtained correlations. Given the present findings, together with those of the Foster et al. [65, 70] investigations, further support is also provided for the use of EEG in establishing neurophysiological validation for neuropsychological tests.

The results from the factor analysis provide support for the contention that the FMT may be a measure of right frontal lobe activity and also provide initial discriminant validity for the FTMT. Specifically, Parts C and D of the FTMT were found to load on the same factor as the number of designs generated on the RFFT, although the time required to complete Part A of the TMT is also included. Additionally, the number of errors committed on Parts C and D of the FTMT comprises a single factor, separate from either the TMT or the RFFT. Although these results support the FTMT as a measure of nonverbal executive functioning, it would be helpful to conduct an additional factor analysis including additional measures of right frontal functioning, and perhaps other measures of right hemisphere functioning as marker variables.

We sought to develop a measure sensitive to right frontal lobe functioning due to the paucity of such tests and the potentially important uses that right frontal lobe tests may have clinically. Tests of right frontal lobe functioning may, for instance, be useful in identifying and distinguishing left versus right frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Research has indicated that FTD is associated with cerebral atrophy at the right dorsolateral frontal and left premotor cortices [71]. Fukui and Kertesz [72] found right frontal lobe volume reduction in FTD relative to Alzheimer’s disease and progressive nonfluent aphasia. Some have suggested that FTD should not be considered as a unitary disorder and that neuropsychological testing may aid in differentially diagnosing left versus right FTD [73].

Whereas right FTD has been associated with more errors and perseverative responses on the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST), left FTD has been associated with significantly worse performance on the Boston Naming Test (BNT) and the Stroop Color-Word test [73]. Razani et al. [74] also distinguished between left and right FTD in finding that left FTD performed worse on the BNT and the right FTD patients performed worse on the WCST. However, as noted earlier, the WCST has been associated with left frontal activity [9], right frontal activation [8], and bilateral frontal activation [7]. Further, patients with left frontal tumors perform worse than those with right frontal tumors [11].

Patients with FTD that predominantly involves the right frontotemporal region have behavioral and emotional abnormalities and those with predominantly left frontotemporal region damage have a loss of lexical semantic knowledge. Patients, in whom neural degeneration begins on the left side, often present to the clinicians at an early stage of the disease due to the presence of language abnormalities, but maintain their emotion processing abilities, being preserved the right anterior temporal lobe. However, as this disease advances, the disease may progress to the right frontotemporal regions. Tests sensitive to right frontal lobe functioning may be useful tools to identify in advance the course of the disease, providing immediate and specific treatments and informing the caregivers on the possible prospective frame of the disease.

A potentially more important use of tests sensitive to right frontal lobe functioning, though, may be in predicting dementia patients that will develop significant and disruptive behavioral deficits. Research has found that approximately 92 % of right-sided FTD patients exhibit socially undesirable behaviors as their initial symptom, as compared to only 11 % of left-sided FTD patients [75]. Behavioral deficits in FTD are associated with gray matter loss at the dorsomedial frontal region, particularly on the right [76].

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is also often associated with significant behavioral disturbances. Even AD patients with mild dementia are noted to exhibit behavioral deficits such as delusions, hallucinations, agitation, dysphoria, anxiety, apathy, and irritability [77]. Indeed, Shimabukuro et al. [77] found that regardless of dementia severity, over half of all AD patients exhibited apathy, delusions, irritability, dysphoria, and anxiety. Delusions in AD patients are associated with relative right frontal hypoperfusion as indicated by SPECT imaging [78, 79]. Further, positron emission tomography (PET) has indicated that AD patients exhibiting delusions exhibit hypometabolism at the right superior dorsolateral frontal and right inferior frontal pole [80].

Although research clearly implicates right frontal lobe dysfunction in the expression of behavioral deficits, data from neuropsychological testing are not as clear. Negative symptoms in patients with AD and FTD have been related to measures of nonverbal and verbal executive functioning as well as verbal memory [81]. Positive symptoms, in contrast, were related to constructional skills and attention. However, Staff et al. [78] failed to dissociate patients with delusions from those without delusions based on neuropsychological test performance, despite significant differences existing in right frontal and limbic functioning as revealed by functional imaging. The inclusion of other measures of right frontal lobe functioning may result in improved neuropsychological differentiation of dementia patients with and without significant behavioral disturbances. Further, it may be possible to predict early in the disease process those patients that will ultimately develop behavioral disturbances with improved measures of right frontal functioning. Predicting those that may develop behavioral problems will permit earlier treatment and will provide the family with more time to prepare for the potential emergence of such difficulties. Certainly, future research needs to be conducted that incorporates measures of right and left frontal lobe functioning in regression analyses to determine the plausibility of such prediction.

Tests sensitive to right frontal lobe functioning may also be useful in identifying more subtle right frontal lobe dysfunction and the cognitive and behavioral changes that follow. The right frontal lobe mediates language melody or prosody and forms a cohesive discourse, interprets abstract communication in spoken and written languages, and interprets the inferred relationships involved in communications. Subtle difficulties in interpreting abstract meaning in communication, comprehending metaphors, and even understanding jokes that are often seen in right frontal lobe stroke patients may not be detected by the family and may also be under diagnosed by clinicians [82]. Further, patients with right frontal lobe lesions are generally more euphoric and unconcerned, often minimizing their symptoms [82] or denying the illness, which may delay referral to a clinician and diagnosis.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disease characterized by motor inhibition deficit, problems with cognitive flexibility, social disruption, and emotional disinhibition [83, 84]. Functional MRI studies reveal reduced right prefrontal activation during “frontal tasks,” such as go/no go [85], Stroop [86], and attention task performance [87]. The right frontal lobe deficit hypothesis is further supported by structural studies [88, 89]. Tests of right frontal lobe functioning may be useful in further characterizing the nature of this deficit and in specifying the likely hemispheric locus of dysfunction.

To summarize, we feel that right frontal lobe functioning has been relatively neglected in neuropsychological assessment and that many uses for such tests exist. Our intent was to develop a test purportedly sensitive to right frontal functioning that would be easy and quick to administer in a clinical setting. However, we are certainly not meaning to assert that our FTMT would be applicable in all the aforementioned conditions. Additional research should be conducted to determine the precise clinical utility of the FTMT.

Further validation of the FTMT should also be undertaken. Establishing convergent validation may involve correlating tests measuring the same domain, such as executive functioning. This was initially accomplished in the present investigation through the significant correlations between the TMT and the FTMT. Additionally, convergent validation may also involve correlating tests that purportedly measure the same region of the brain. This was also initially accomplished in the present investigation through the significant correlations between the FTMT and the RFFT. However, additional convergent validation certainly needs to be obtained, as well as validation using patient populations and neurophysiological validation.

We are currently collecting data that hopefully will provide neurophysiological validation of the FTMT. Certainly, though, it is hoped that the present investigation will not only stimulate further research seeking to validate the FTMT and provide more comprehensive normative data, but also stimulate research investigating whether the FTMT or other measures of right frontal lobe functioning may be used to predict patients that will develop behavioral disturbances.

 

World’s Greatest Literature Reveals Multifractals, Cascades of Consciousness

http://www.scientificcomputing.com/news/2016/01/worlds-greatest-literature-reveals-multifractals-cascades-consciousness

http://www.scientificcomputing.com/sites/scientificcomputing.com/files/Worlds_Greatest_Literature_Reveals_Multifractals_Cascades_of_Consciousness_440.jpg

Multifractal analysis of Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. The ideal shape of the graph is virtually indistinguishable from the results for purely mathematical multifractals. The horizontal axis represents the degree of singularity, and the vertical axis shows the spectrum of singularity. Courtesy of IFJ PAN

Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, James Joyce, William Shakespeare and JRR Tolkien. Regardless of the language they were working in, some of the world’s greatest writers appear to be, in some respects, constructing fractals. Statistical analysis, however, revealed something even more intriguing. The composition of works from within a particular genre was characterized by the exceptional dynamics of a cascading (avalanche) narrative structure. This type of narrative turns out to be multifractal. That is, fractals of fractals are created.

As far as many bookworms are concerned, advanced equations and graphs are the last things which would hold their interest, but there’s no escape from the math. Physicists from the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IFJ) in Cracow, Poland, performed a detailed statistical analysis of more than one hundred famous works of world literature, written in several languages and representing various literary genres. The books, tested for revealing correlations in variations of sentence length, proved to be governed by the dynamics of a cascade. This means that the construction of these books is, in fact, a fractal. In the case of several works, their mathematical complexity proved to be exceptional, comparable to the structure of complex mathematical objects considered to be multifractal. Interestingly, in the analyzed pool of all the works, one genre turned out to be exceptionally multifractal in nature.

Fractals are self-similar mathematical objects: when we begin to expand one fragment or another, what eventually emerges is a structure that resembles the original object. Typical fractals, especially those widely known as the Sierpinski triangle and the Mandelbrot set, are monofractals, meaning that the pace of enlargement in any place of a fractal is the same, linear: if they at some point were rescaled x number of times to reveal a structure similar to the original, the same increase in another place would also reveal a similar structure.

Multifractals are more highly advanced mathematical structures: fractals of fractals. They arise from fractals ‘interwoven’ with each other in an appropriate manner and in appropriate proportions. Multifractals are not simply the sum of fractals and cannot be divided to return back to their original components, because the way they weave is fractal in nature. The result is that, in order to see a structure similar to the original, different portions of a multifractal need to expand at different rates. A multifractal is, therefore, non-linear in nature.

“Analyses on multiple scales, carried out using fractals, allow us to neatly grasp information on correlations among data at various levels of complexity of tested systems. As a result, they point to the hierarchical organization of phenomena and structures found in nature. So, we can expect natural language, which represents a major evolutionary leap of the natural world, to show such correlations as well. Their existence in literary works, however, had not yet been convincingly documented. Meanwhile, it turned out that, when you look at these works from the proper perspective, these correlations appear to be not only common, but in some works they take on a particularly sophisticated mathematical complexity,” says Professor Stanislaw Drozdz, IFJ PAN, Cracow University of Technology.

The study involved 113 literary works written in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Russian and Spanish by such famous figures as Honore de Balzac, Arthur Conan Doyle, Julio Cortazar, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Alexandre Dumas, Umberto Eco, George Elliot, Victor Hugo, James Joyce, Thomas Mann, Marcel Proust, Wladyslaw Reymont, William Shakespeare, Henryk Sienkiewicz, JRR Tolkien, Leo Tolstoy and Virginia Woolf, among others. The selected works were no less than 5,000 sentences long, in order to ensure statistical reliability.

To convert the texts to numerical sequences, sentence length was measured by the number of words (an alternative method of counting characters in the sentence turned out to have no major impact on the conclusions). The dependences were then searched for in the data — beginning with the simplest, i.e. linear. This is the posited question: if a sentence of a given length is x times longer than the sentences of different lengths, is the same aspect ratio preserved when looking at sentences respectively longer or shorter?

“All of the examined works showed self-similarity in terms of organization of the lengths of sentences. Some were more expressive — here The Ambassadors by Henry James stood out — while others to far less of an extreme, as in the case of the French seventeenth-century romance Artamene ou le Grand Cyrus. However, correlations were evident and, therefore, these texts were the construction of a fractal,” comments Dr. Pawel Oswiecimka (IFJ PAN), who also noted that fractality of a literary text will, in practice, never be as perfect as in the world of mathematics. It is possible to magnify mathematical fractals up to infinity, while the number of sentences in each book is finite and, at a certain stage of scaling, there will always be a cut-off in the form of the end of the dataset.

Things took a particularly interesting turn when physicists from IFJ PAN began tracking non-linear dependence, which in most of the studied works was present to a slight or moderate degree. However, more than a dozen works revealed a very clear multifractal structure, and almost all of these proved to be representative of one genre, that of stream of consciousness. The only exception was the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, which has, so far, never been associated with this literary genre.

“The absolute record in terms of multifractality turned out to be Finnegan’s Wakeby James Joyce. The results of our analysis of this text are virtually indistinguishable from ideal, purely mathematical multifractals,” says Drozdz.

The most multifractal works also included A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, Rayuela by Julio Cortazar, The US Trilogy by John Dos Passos, The Waves by Virginia Woolf, 2666 by Roberto Bolano, and Joyce’sUlysses. At the same time, a lot of works usually regarded as stream of consciousness turned out to show little correlation to multifractality, as it was hardly noticeable in books such as Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust.

“It is not entirely clear whether stream of consciousness writing actually reveals the deeper qualities of our consciousness, or rather the imagination of the writers. It is hardly surprising that ascribing a work to a particular genre is, for whatever reason, sometimes subjective. We see, moreover, the possibility of an interesting application of our methodology: it may someday help in a more objective assignment of books to one genre or another,” notes Drozdz.

Multifractal analyses of literary texts carried out by the IFJ PAN have been published in Information Sciences, the journal of computer science. The publication has undergone rigorous verification: given the interdisciplinary nature of the subject, editors immediately appointed up to six reviewers.

Citation: “Quantifying origin and character of long-range correlations in narrative texts” S. Drożdż, P. Oświęcimka, A. Kulig, J. Kwapień, K. Bazarnik, I. Grabska-Gradzińska, J. Rybicki, M. Stanuszek; Information Sciences, vol. 331, 32–44, 20 February 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.ins.2015.10.023

 

New Quantum Approach to Big Data could make Impossibly Complex Problems Solvable

David L. Chandler, MIT

http://www.scientificcomputing.com/news/2016/01/new-quantum-approach-big-data-could-make-impossibly-complex-problems-solvable

 

http://www.scientificcomputing.com/sites/scientificcomputing.com/files/New_Quantum_Approach_to_Big_Data_could_make_Impossibly_Complex_Problems_Solvable_440.jpg

This diagram demonstrates the simplified results that can be obtained by using quantum analysis on enormous, complex sets of data. Shown here are the connections between different regions of the brain in a control subject (left) and a subject under the influence of the psychedelic compound psilocybin (right). This demonstrates a dramatic increase in connectivity, which explains some of the drug’s effects (such as “hearing” colors or “seeing” smells). Such an analysis, involving billions of brain cells, would be too complex for conventional techniques, but could be handled easily by the new quantum approach, the researchers say. Courtesy of the researchers

From gene mapping to space exploration, humanity continues to generate ever-larger sets of data — far more information than people can actually process, manage or understand.

Machine learning systems can help researchers deal with this ever-growing flood of information. Some of the most powerful of these analytical tools are based on a strange branch of geometry called topology, which deals with properties that stay the same even when something is bent and stretched every which way.

Such topological systems are especially useful for analyzing the connections in complex networks, such as the internal wiring of the brain, the U.S. power grid, or the global interconnections of the Internet. But even with the most powerful modern supercomputers, such problems remain daunting and impractical to solve. Now, a new approach that would use quantum computers to streamline these problems has been developed by researchers at MIT, the University of Waterloo, and the University of Southern California.

The team describes their theoretical proposal this week in the journal Nature Communications. Seth Lloyd, the paper’s lead author and the Nam P. Suh Professor of Mechanical Engineering, explains that algebraic topology is key to the new method. This approach, he says, helps to reduce the impact of the inevitable distortions that arise every time someone collects data about the real world.

In a topological description, basic features of the data (How many holes does it have? How are the different parts connected?) are considered the same no matter how much they are stretched, compressed, or distorted. Lloyd explains that it is often these fundamental topological attributes “that are important in trying to reconstruct the underlying patterns in the real world that the data are supposed to represent.”

It doesn’t matter what kind of dataset is being analyzed, he says. The topological approach to looking for connections and holes “works whether it’s an actual physical hole, or the data represents a logical argument and there’s a hole in the argument. This will find both kinds of holes.”

Using conventional computers, that approach is too demanding for all but the simplest situations. Topological analysis “represents a crucial way of getting at the significant features of the data, but it’s computationally very expensive,” Lloyd says. “This is where quantum mechanics kicks in.” The new quantum-based approach, he says, could exponentially speed up such calculations.

Lloyd offers an example to illustrate that potential speedup: If you have a dataset with 300 points, a conventional approach to analyzing all the topological features in that system would require “a computer the size of the universe,” he says. That is, it would take 2300 (two to the 300th power) processing units — approximately the number of all the particles in the universe. In other words, the problem is simply not solvable in that way.

“That’s where our algorithm kicks in,” he says. Solving the same problem with the new system, using a quantum computer, would require just 300 quantum bits — and a device this size may be achieved in the next few years, according to Lloyd.

“Our algorithm shows that you don’t need a big quantum computer to kick some serious topological butt,” he says.

There are many important kinds of huge datasets where the quantum-topological approach could be useful, Lloyd says, for example understanding interconnections in the brain. “By applying topological analysis to datasets gleaned by electroencephalography or functional MRI, you can reveal the complex connectivity and topology of the sequences of firing neurons that underlie our thought processes,” he says.

The same approach could be used for analyzing many other kinds of information. “You could apply it to the world’s economy, or to social networks, or almost any system that involves long-range transport of goods or information,” Lloyd says. But the limits of classical computation have prevented such approaches from being applied before.

While this work is theoretical, “experimentalists have already contacted us about trying prototypes,” he says. “You could find the topology of simple structures on a very simple quantum computer. People are trying proof-of-concept experiments.”

Ignacio Cirac, a professor at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Munich, Germany, who was not involved in this research, calls it “a very original idea, and I think that it has a great potential.” He adds “I guess that it has to be further developed and adapted to particular problems. In any case, I think that this is top-quality research.”

The team also included Silvano Garnerone of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and Paolo Zanardi of the Center for Quantum Information Science and Technology at the University of Southern California. The work was supported by the Army Research Office, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative of the Office of Naval Research, and the National Science Foundation.

 

Beyond Chess: Computer Beats Human in Ancient Chinese Game

http://www.rdmag.com/news/2016/01/beyond-chess-computer-beats-human-ancient-chinese-game

http://www.rdmag.com/sites/rdmag.com/files/rd1601_chess.jpg

A player places a black stone while his opponent waits to place a white one as they play Go, a game of strategy, in the Seattle Go Center, Tuesday, April 30, 2002. The game, which originated in China more than 2,500 years ago, involves two players who take turns putting markers on a grid. The object is to surround more area on the board with the markers than one’s opponent, as well as capturing the opponent’s pieces by surrounding them. A paper released Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016 describes how a computer program has beaten a human master at the complex board game, marking significant advance for development of artificial intelligence. (AP Photo/Cheryl Hatch)

 

A computer program has beaten a human champion at the ancient Chinese board game Go, marking a significant advance for development of artificial intelligence.

The program had taught itself how to win, and its developers say its learning strategy may someday let computers help solve real-world problems like making medical diagnoses and pursuing scientific research.

The program and its victory are described in a paper released Wednesday by the journal Nature.

Computers previously have surpassed humans for other games, including chess, checkers and backgammon. But among classic games, Go has long been viewed as the most challenging for artificial intelligence to master.

Go, which originated in China more than 2,500 years ago, involves two players who take turns putting markers on a checkerboard-like grid. The object is to surround more area on the board with the markers than one’s opponent, as well as capturing the opponent’s pieces by surrounding them.

While the rules are simple, playing it well is not. It’s “probably the most complex game ever devised by humans,” Dennis Hassabis of Google DeepMind in London, one of the study authors, told reporters Tuesday.

The new program, AlphaGo, defeated the European champion in all five games of a match in October, the Nature paper reports.

In March, AlphaGo will face legendary player Lee Sedol in Seoul, South Korea, for a $1 million prize, Hassabis said.

Martin Mueller, a computing science professor at the University of Alberta in Canada who has worked on Go programs for 30 years but didn’t participate in AlphaGo, said the new program “is really a big step up from everything else we’ve seen…. It’s a very, very impressive piece of work.”

 

 

Biological Origin of Schizophrenia

Excessive ‘pruning’ of connections between neurons in brain predisposes to disease

http://hms.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/uploads/news/McCarroll_C4_600x400.jpg

Imaging studies showed C4 (in green) located at the synapses of primary human neurons. Image: Heather de Rivera, McCarroll lab

 PAUL GOLDSMITH    http://hms.harvard.edu/news/biological-origin-schizophrenia

The risk of schizophrenia increases if a person inherits specific variants in a gene related to “synaptic pruning”—the elimination of connections between neurons—according to a study from Harvard Medical School, the Broad Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital. The findings were based on genetic analysis of nearly 65,000 people.

The study represents the first time that the origin of this psychiatric disease has been causally linked to specific gene variants and a biological process.

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It also helps explain two decades-old observations: synaptic pruning is particularly active during adolescence, which is the typical period of onset for symptoms of schizophrenia, and the brains of schizophrenic patients tend to show fewer connections between neurons.

The gene, complement component 4 (C4), plays a well-known role in the immune system. It has now been shown to also play a key role in brain development and schizophrenia risk. The insight may allow future therapeutic strategies to be directed at the disorder’s roots, rather than just its symptoms.

The study, which appears online Jan. 27 in Nature, was led by HMS researchers at the Broad Institute’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research and Boston Children’s. They include senior author Steven McCarroll, HMS associate professor of genetics and director of genetics for the Stanley Center; Beth Stevens, HMS assistant professor of neurology at Boston Children’s and institute member at the Broad; Michael Carroll, HMS professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s; and first author Aswin Sekar, an MD-PhD student at HMS.

The study has the potential to reinvigorate translational research on a debilitating disease. Schizophrenia afflicts approximately 1 percent people worldwide and is characterized by hallucinations, emotional withdrawal and a decline in cognitive function. These symptoms most frequently begin in patients when they are teenagers or young adults.

“These results show that it is possible to go from genetic data to a new way of thinking about how a disease develops—something that has been greatly needed.”

First described more than 130 years ago, schizophrenia lacks highly effective treatments and has seen few biological or medical breakthroughs over the past half-century.

In the summer of 2014, an international consortium led by researchers at the Stanley Center identified more than 100 regions in the human genome that carry risk factors for schizophrenia.

The newly published study now reports the discovery of the specific gene underlying the strongest of these risk factors and links it to a specific biological process in the brain.

“Since schizophrenia was first described over a century ago, its underlying biology has been a black box, in part because it has been virtually impossible to model the disorder in cells or animals,” said McCarroll. “The human genome is providing a powerful new way in to this disease. Understanding these genetic effects on risk is a way of prying open that black box, peering inside and starting to see actual biological mechanisms.”

“This study marks a crucial turning point in the fight against mental illness,” said Bruce Cuthbert, acting director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “Because the molecular origins of psychiatric diseases are little-understood, efforts by pharmaceutical companies to pursue new therapeutics are few and far between. This study changes the game. Thanks to this genetic breakthrough we can finally see the potential for clinical tests, early detection, new treatments and even prevention.”

The path to discovery

The discovery involved the collection of DNA from more than 100,000 people, detailed analysis of complex genetic variation in more than 65,000 human genomes, development of an innovative analytical strategy, examination of postmortem brain samples from hundreds of people and the use of animal models to show that a protein from the immune system also plays a previously unsuspected role in the brain.

Over the past five years, Stanley Center geneticists and collaborators around the world collected more than 100,000 human DNA samples from 30 different countries to locate regions of the human genome harboring genetic variants that increase the risk of schizophrenia. The strongest signal by far was on chromosome 6, in a region of DNA long associated with infectious disease. This caused some observers to suggest that schizophrenia might be triggered by an infectious agent. But researchers had no idea which of the hundreds of genes in the region was actually responsible or how it acted.

Based on analyses of the genetic data, McCarroll and Sekar focused on a region containing the C4 gene. Unlike most genes, C4 has a high degree of structural variability. Different people have different numbers of copies and different types of the gene.

McCarroll and Sekar developed a new molecular technique to characterize the C4 gene structure in human DNA samples. They also measured C4 gene activity in nearly 700 post-mortem brain samples.

They found that the C4 gene structure (DNA) could predict the C4 gene activity (RNA) in each person’s brain. They then used this information to infer C4 gene activity from genome data from 65,000 people with and without schizophrenia.

These data revealed a striking correlation. People who had particular structural forms of the C4 gene showed higher expression of that gene and, in turn, had a higher risk of developing schizophrenia.

Connecting cause and effect through neuroscience

But how exactly does C4—a protein known to mark infectious microbes for destruction by immune cells—affect the risk of schizophrenia?

Answering this question required synthesizing genetics and neurobiology.

Stevens, a recent recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” had found that other complement proteins in the immune system also played a role in brain development. These results came from studying an experimental model of synaptic pruning in the mouse visual system.

“This discovery enriches our understanding of the complement system in brain development and in disease, and we could not have made that leap without the genetics.”

Carroll had long studied C4 for its role in immune disease, and developed mice with different numbers of copies of C4.

The three labs set out to study the role of C4 in the brain.

They found that C4 played a key role in pruning synapses during maturation of the brain. In particular, they found that C4 was necessary for another protein—a complement component called C3—to be deposited onto synapses as a signal that the synapses should be pruned. The data also suggested that the more C4 activity an animal had, the more synapses were eliminated in its brain at a key time in development.

The findings may help explain the longstanding mystery of why the brains of people with schizophrenia tend to have a thinner cerebral cortex (the brain’s outer layer, responsible for many aspects of cognition) with fewer synapses than do brains of unaffected individuals. The work may also help explain why the onset of schizophrenia symptoms tends to occur in late adolescence.

The human brain normally undergoes widespread synapse pruning during adolescence, especially in the cerebral cortex. Excessive synaptic pruning during adolescence and early adulthood, due to increased complement (C4) activity, could lead to the cognitive symptoms seen in schizophrenia.

“Once we had the genetic findings in front of us we started thinking about the possibility that complement molecules are excessively tagging synapses in the developing brain,” Stevens said.

“This discovery enriches our understanding of the complement system in brain development and in disease, and we could not have made that leap without the genetics,” she said. “We’re far from having a treatment based on this, but it’s exciting to think that one day we might be able to turn down the pruning process in some individuals and decrease their risk.”

Opening a path toward early detection and potential therapies

Beyond providing the first insights into the biological origins of schizophrenia, the work raises the possibility that therapies might someday be developed that could turn down the level of synaptic pruning in people who show early symptoms of schizophrenia.

This would be a dramatically different approach from current medical therapies, which address only a specific symptom of schizophrenia—psychosis—rather than the disorder’s root causes, and which do not stop cognitive decline or other symptoms of the illness.

The researchers emphasize that therapies based on these findings are still years down the road. Still, the fact that much is already known about the role of complement proteins in the immune system means that researchers can tap into a wealth of existing knowledge to identify possible therapeutic approaches. For example, anticomplement drugs are already under development for treating other diseases.

“In this area of science, our dream has been to find disease mechanisms that lead to new kinds of treatments,” said McCarroll. “These results show that it is possible to go from genetic data to a new way of thinking about how a disease develops—something that has been greatly needed.”

This work was supported by the Broad Institute’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research and by the National Institutes of Health (grants U01MH105641, R01MH077139 and T32GM007753).

Adapted from a Broad Institute news release.

 

Scientists open the ‘black box’ of schizophrenia with dramatic genetic discovery

Amy Ellis Nutt    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/01/27/scientists-open-the-black-box-of-schizophrenia-with-dramatic-genetic-finding/

 

Scientists Prune Away Schizophrenia’s Hidden Genetic Mechanisms

http://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/scientists-prune-away-schizophrenia-s-hidden-genetic-mechanisms/81252297/

https://youtu.be/s0y4equOTLg

A landmark study has revealed that a person’s risk of schizophrenia is increased if they inherit specific variants in a gene related to “synaptic pruning”—the elimination of connections between neurons. The findings represent the first time that the origin of this devastating psychiatric disease has been causally linked to specific gene variants and a biological process.

http://www.genengnews.com/Media/images/GENHighlight/thumb_107629_web2209513618.jpg

The site in Chromosome 6 harboring the gene C4 towers far above other risk-associated areas on schizophrenia’s genomic “skyline,” marking its strongest known genetic influence. The new study is the first to explain how specific gene versions work biologically to confer schizophrenia risk. [Psychiatric Genomics Consortium]

  • A new study by researchers at the Broad Institute’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, Harvard Medical School, and Boston Children’s Hospital genetically analyzed nearly 65,000 people and revealed that an individual’s risk of schizophrenia is increased if they inherited distinct variants in a gene related to “synaptic pruning”—the elimination of connections between neurons. This new data represents the first time that the origin of this psychiatric disease has been causally linked to particular gene variants and a biological process.

The investigators discovered that versions of a gene commonly thought to be involved in immune function might trigger a runaway pruning of an adolescent brain’s still-maturing communications infrastructure. The researchers described a scenario where patients with schizophrenia show fewer such connections between neurons or synapses.

“Normally, pruning gets rid of excess connections we no longer need, streamlining our brain for optimal performance, but too much pruning can impair mental function,” explained Thomas Lehner, Ph.D., director of the Office of Genomics Research Coordination at the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which co-funded the study along with the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute and other NIH components. “It could help explain schizophrenia’s delayed age-of-onset of symptoms in late adolescence and early adulthood and shrinkage of the brain’s working tissue. Interventions that put the brakes on this pruning process-gone-awry could prove transformative.”

The gene the research team called into question, dubbed C4 (complement component 4), was associated with the largest risk for the disorder. C4’s role represents some of the most compelling evidence, to date, linking specific gene versions to a biological process that could cause at least some cases of the illness.

The findings from this study were published recently in Nature through an article entitled “Schizophrenia risk from complex variation of complement component 4.”

“Since schizophrenia was first described over a century ago, its underlying biology has been a black box, in part because it has been virtually impossible to model the disorder in cells or animals,” noted senior study author Steven McCarroll, Ph.D., director of genetics for the Stanley Center and an associate professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. “The human genome is providing a powerful new way into this disease. Understanding these genetic effects on risk is a way of prying open that block box, peering inside and starting to see actual biological mechanisms.”

Dr. McCarroll and his colleagues found that a stretch of chromosome 6 encompassing several genes known to be involved in immune function emerged as the strongest signal associated with schizophrenia risk in genome-wide analyses. Yet conventional genetics failed to turn up any specific gene versions there that were linked to schizophrenia.

In order to uncover how the immune-related site confers risk for the mental disorder, the scientists mounted a search for cryptic genetic influences that might generate unconventional signals. C4, a gene with known roles in immunity, emerged as a prime suspect because it is unusually variable across individuals.

Upon further investigation into the complexities of how such structural variation relates to the gene’s level of expression and how that, in turn, might link to schizophrenia, the team discovered structurally distinct versions that affect expression of two main forms of the gene within the brain. The more a version resulted in expression of one of the forms, called C4A, the more it was associated with schizophrenia. The greater number of copies an individual had of the suspect versions, the more C4 switched on and the higher their risk of developing schizophrenia. Furthermore, the C4 protein turned out to be most prevalent within the cellular machinery that supports connections between neurons.

“Once we had the genetic findings in front of us we started thinking about the possibility that complement molecules are excessively tagging synapses in the developing brain,” remarked co-author Beth Stevens, Ph.D. a neuroscientist and assistant professor of neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital and institute member at the Broad. “This discovery enriches our understanding of the complement system in brain development and disease, and we could not have made that leap without the genetics. We’re far from having a treatment based on this, but it’s exciting to think that one day we might be able to turn down the pruning process in some individuals and decrease their risk.”

“This study marks a crucial turning point in the fight against mental illness. It changes the game,” added acting NIMH director Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D. “Because the molecular origins of psychiatric diseases are little-understood, efforts by pharmaceutical companies to pursue new therapeutics are few and far between. This study changes the game. Thanks to this genetic breakthrough, we can finally see the potential for clinical tests, early detection, new treatments, and even prevention.”

 

Connecting cause and effect through neuroscience

But how exactly does C4—a protein known to mark infectious microbes for destruction by immune cells—affect the risk of schizophrenia?

Answering this question required synthesizing genetics and neurobiology.

Stevens, a recent recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” had found that other complement proteins in the immune system also played a role in brain development. These results came from studying an experimental model of synaptic pruning in the mouse visual system.

“This discovery enriches our understanding of the complement system in brain development and in disease, and we could not have made that leap without the genetics.”

Carroll had long studied C4 for its role in immune disease, and developed mice with different numbers of copies of C4.

The three labs set out to study the role of C4 in the brain.

They found that C4 played a key role in pruning synapses during maturation of the brain. In particular, they found that C4 was necessary for another protein—a complement component called C3—to be deposited onto synapses as a signal that the synapses should be pruned. The data also suggested that the more C4 activity an animal had, the more synapses were eliminated in its brain at a key time in development.

The findings may help explain the longstanding mystery of why the brains of people with schizophrenia tend to have a thinner cerebral cortex (the brain’s outer layer, responsible for many aspects of cognition) with fewer synapses than do brains of unaffected individuals. The work may also help explain why the onset of schizophrenia symptoms tends to occur in late adolescence.

The human brain normally undergoes widespread synapse pruning during adolescence, especially in the cerebral cortex. Excessive synaptic pruning during adolescence and early adulthood, due to increased complement (C4) activity, could lead to the cognitive symptoms seen in schizophrenia.

“Once we had the genetic findings in front of us we started thinking about the possibility that complement molecules are excessively tagging synapses in the developing brain,” Stevens said.

“This discovery enriches our understanding of the complement system in brain development and in disease, and we could not have made that leap without the genetics,” she said. “We’re far from having a treatment based on this, but it’s exciting to think that one day we might be able to turn down the pruning process in some individuals and decrease their risk.”

Opening a path toward early detection and potential therapies

Beyond providing the first insights into the biological origins of schizophrenia, the work raises the possibility that therapies might someday be developed that could turn down the level of synaptic pruning in people who show early symptoms of schizophrenia.

This would be a dramatically different approach from current medical therapies, which address only a specific symptom of schizophrenia—psychosis—rather than the disorder’s root causes, and which do not stop cognitive decline or other symptoms of the illness.

The researchers emphasize that therapies based on these findings are still years down the road. Still, the fact that much is already known about the role of complement proteins in the immune system means that researchers can tap into a wealth of existing knowledge to identify possible therapeutic approaches. For example, anticomplement drugs are already under development for treating other diseases.

“In this area of science, our dream has been to find disease mechanisms that lead to new kinds of treatments,” said McCarroll. “These results show that it is possible to go from genetic data to a new way of thinking about how a disease develops—something that has been greatly needed.”

This work was supported by the Broad Institute’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research and by the National Institutes of Health (grants U01MH105641, R01MH077139 and T32GM007753).

Adapted from a Broad Institute news release.

 

 

https://img.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=https://img.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_908w/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2011/09/27/Production/Sunday/SunBiz/Images/mental2b.jpg&w=1484

This post has been updated.

For the first time, scientists have pinned down a molecular process in the brain that helps to trigger schizophrenia. The researchers involved in the landmark study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Nature, say the discovery of this new genetic pathway probably reveals what goes wrong neurologically in a young person diagnosed with the devastating disorder.

The study marks a watershed moment, with the potential for early detection and new treatments that were unthinkable just a year ago, according to Steven Hyman, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute at MIT. Hyman, a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, calls it “the most significant mechanistic study about schizophrenia ever.”

“I’m a crusty, old, curmudgeonly skeptic,” he said. “But I’m almost giddy about these findings.”

The researchers, chiefly from the Broad Institute, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, found that a person’s risk of schizophrenia is dramatically increased if they inherit variants of a gene important to “synaptic pruning” — the healthy reduction during adolescence of brain cell connections that are no longer needed.

[Schizophrenic patients have different oral bacteria than non-mentally ill individuals]

In patients with schizophrenia, a variation in a single position in the DNA sequence marks too many synapses for removal and that pruning goes out of control. The result is an abnormal loss of gray matter.

The genes involved coat the neurons with “eat-me signals,” said study co-author Beth Stevens, a neuroscientist at Children’s Hospital and Broad. “They are tagging too many synapses. And they’re gobbled up.

The Institute’s founding director, Eric Lander, believes the research represents an astonishing breakthrough. “It’s taking what has been a black box…and letting us peek inside for the first time. And that is amazingly consequential,” he said.

The timeline for this discovery has been relatively fast. In July 2014, Broad researchers published the results of the largest genomic study on the disorder and found more than 100 genetic locations linked to schizophrenia. Based on that research, Harvard and Broad geneticist Steven McCarroll analyzed data from about 29,000 schizophrenia cases, 36,000 controls and 700 post mortem brains. The information was drawn from dozens of studies performed in 22 countries, all of which contribute to the worldwide database called the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium.

[Influential government-appointed panel recommends depression screening for everyone]

One area in particular, when graphed, showed the strongest association. It was dubbed the “Manhattan plot” for its resemblance to New York City’s towering buildings. The highest peak was on chromosome 6, where McCarroll’s team discovered the gene variant. C4 was “a dark corner of the human genome,” he said, an area difficult to decipher because of its “astonishing level” of diversity.

C4 and numerous other genes reside in a region of chromosome 6 involved in the immune system, which clears out pathogens and similar cellular debris from the brain. The study’s researchers found that one of C4’s variants, C4A, was most associated with a risk for schizophrenia.

More than 25 million people around the globe are affected by schizophrenia, according to the World Health Organization, including 2 million to 3 million Americans. Highly hereditable, it is one of the most severe mental illnesses, with an annual economic burden in this country of tens of billions of dollars.

“This paper is really exciting,” said Jacqueline Feldman, associate medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “We as scientists and physicians have to temper our enthusiasm because we’ve gone down this path before. But this is profoundly interesting.”

There have been hundreds of theories about schizophrenia over the years, but one of the enduring mysteries has been how three prominent findings related to each other: the apparent involvement of immune molecules, the disorder’s typical onset in late adolescence and early adulthood, and the thinning of gray matter seen in autopsies of patients.

[A low-tech way to help treat young schizophrenic patients]

“The thing about this result,” said McCarroll, the lead author, ” it makes a lot of other things understandable. To have a result to connect to these observations and to have a molecule and strong level of genetic evidence from tens of thousands of research participants, I think that combination sets [this study] apart.”

The authors stressed that their findings, which combine basic science with large-scale analysis of genetic studies, depended on an unusual level of cooperation among experts in genetics, molecular biology, developmental neurobiology and immunology.

“This could not have been done five years ago,” said Hyman. “This required the ability to reference a very large dataset . …When I was [NIMH] director, people really resisted collaborating. They were still in the Pharaoh era. They wanted to be buried with their data.”

The study offers a new approach to schizophrenia research, which has been largely stagnant for decades.  Most psychiatric drugs seek to interrupt psychotic thinking, but experts agree that psychosis is just a single symptom — and a late-occurring one at that. One of the chief difficulties for psychiatric researchers, setting them apart from most other medical investigators, is that they can’t cut schizophrenia out of the brain and look at it under a microscope. Nor are there any good animal models.

All that now has changed, according to Stevens. “We now have a strong molecular handle, a pathway and a gene, to develop better models,” he said.

Which isn’t to say a cure is right around the corner.

“This is the first exciting  clue, maybe even the most important we’ll ever have, but it will be decades” before a true cure is found,” Hyman said. “Hope is a wonderful thing. False promise is not.”

Insight Pharma Report

Three neurodegenerative disorders that are heavily focused on in this report include: Alzheimer’s Disease/Mild Cognitive Impairment, Parkinson’s Disease, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Part II of the report will include all three of these disorders, highlighting specifics including background, history, and development of the disease. Deeper into the chapters, the report will unfold biomarkers under investigation, genetic targets, and an analysis of multiple studies investigating these elements.

Experts interviewed in these chapters include:

  • Dr. Jens Wendland, Head of Neuroscience Genetics, Precision Medicine, Clinical Research, Pfizer Worldwide R&D
  • Dr. Howard J. Federoff, Executive Vice President for Health Sciences, Georgetown University
  • Dr. Andrew West, Associate Professor of Neurology and Neurobiology and Co-Director, Center for Neurodegeneration and Experimental Therapeutics
  • Dr. Merit Ester Cudkowicz, Chief of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital

Part III of the report makes a shift from neurobiomarkers to neurodiagnostics. This section highlights several diagnostics in play and in the making from a number of companies, identifying company strategies, research underway, hypotheses, and institution goals. Elite researchers and companies highlighted in this part include:

  • Dr. Xuemei Huang, Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Neurology; Professor of Neurosurgery, Radiology,  Pharmacology, and Kinesiology Director; Hershey Brain Analysis Research Laboratory for Neurodegenerative Disorders, Penn State University-Milton, S. Hershey Medical Center Department of Neurology
  • Dr. Andreas Jeromin, CSO and President of Atlantic Biomarkers
  • Julien Bradley, Senior Director, Sales & Marketing, Quanterix
  • Dr. Scott Marshall, Head of Bioanalytics, and Dr. Jared Kohler, Head of Biomarker Statistics, BioStat Solutions, Inc.

Further analysis appears in Part IV. This section includes a survey exclusively conducted for this report. With over 30 figures and graphics and an in depth analysis, this part features insight into targets under investigation, challenges, advantages, and desired features of future diagnostic applications. Furthermore, the survey covers more than just the featured neurodegenerative disorders in this report, expanding to Multiple Sclerosis and Huntington’s Disease.

Finally, Insight Pharma Reports concludes this report with clinical trial and pipeline data featuring targets and products from over 300 companies working in Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

 

Epigenome Tapped to Understand Rise of Subtype of Brain Medulloblastoma

http://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/epigenome-tapped-to-understand-rise-of-subtype-of-brain-medulloblastoma/81252294/

Scientists have identified the cells that likely give rise to the brain tumor subtype Group 4 medulloblastoma. [V. Yakobchuk/ Fotolia]

http://www.genengnews.com/Media/images/GENHighlight/thumb_Jan_28_2016_Fotolia_6761569_ColorfulBrain_4412824411.jpg

An international team of scientists say they have identified the cells that likely give rise to the brain tumor subtype Group 4 medulloblastoma. The believe their study (“Active medulloblastoma enhancers reveal subgroup-specific cellular origins”), published in Nature, removes a barrier to developing more effective targeted therapies against the brain tumor’s most common subtype.

Medulloblastoma occurs in infants, children, and adults, but it is the most common malignant pediatric brain tumor. The disease includes four biologically and clinically distinct subtypes, of which Group 4 is the most common. In children, about half of medulloblastoma patients are of the Group 4 subtype. Efforts to improve patient outcomes, particularly for those with high-risk Group 4 medulloblastoma, have been hampered by the lack of accurate animal models.

Evidence from this study suggests Group 4 tumors begin in neural stem cells that are born in a region of the developing cerebellum called the upper rhomic lip (uRL), according to the researchers.

“Pinpointing the cell(s) of origin for Group 4 medulloblastoma will help us to better understand normal cerebellar development and dramatically improve our chances of developing genetically faithful preclinical mouse models. These models are desperately needed for learning more about Group 4 medulloblastoma biology and evaluating rational, molecularly targeted therapies to improve patient outcomes,” said Paul Northcott, Ph.D., an assistant member of the St. Jude department of developmental neurobiology. Dr. Northcott, Stefan Pfister, M.D., of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), and James Bradner, M.D., of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, are the corresponding authors.

The discovery and other findings about the missteps fueling tumor growth came from studying the epigenome. Researchers used the analytic tool ChiP-seq to identify and track medulloblastoma subtype differences based on the activity of epigenetic regulators, which included proteins known as master regulator transcription factors. They bind to DNA enhancers and super-enhancers. The master regulator transcription factors and super-enhancers work together to regulate the expression of critical genes, such as those responsible for cell identity.

Those and other tools helped investigators identify more than 3,000 super-enhancers in 28 medulloblastoma tumors as well as evidence that the activity of super-enhancers varied by subtype. The super-enhancers switched on known cancer genes, including genes like ALK, MYC, SMO, and OTX2 that are associated with medulloblastoma, the researchers reported.

Knowledge of the subtype super-enhancers led to identification of the transcription factors that regulate their activity. Using computational methods, researchers applied that information to reconstruct the transcription factor networks responsible for medulloblastoma subtype diversity and identity, providing previously unknown insights into the regulatory landscape and transcriptional output of the different medulloblastoma subtypes.

The approach helped to discover and nominate Lmx1A as a master regulator transcription factor of Group 4 tumors, which led to the identification of the likely Group 4 tumor cells of origin. Lmx1A was known to play an important role in normal development of cells in the uRL and cerebellum. Additional studies performed in mice with and without Lmx1A in this study supported uRL cells as the likely source of Group 4 tumors.

“By studying the epigenome, we also identified new pathways and molecular dependencies not apparent in previous gene expression and mutational studies,” explained Dr. Northcott. “The findings open new therapeutic avenues, particularly for the Group 3 and 4 subtypes where patient outcomes are inferior for the majority of affected children.”

For example, researchers identified increased enhancer activity targeting the TGFbeta pathway. The finding adds to evidence that the pathway may drive Group 3 medulloblastoma, currently the subtype with the worst prognosis. The pathway regulates cell growth, cell death, and other functions that are often disrupted in cancer, but it’s role in medulloblastoma is poorly understood.

The analysis included samples from 28 medulloblastoma tumors representing the four subtypes. Researchers believe it is the largest epigenetic study yet for any single cancer type and, importantly, the first to use a large cohort of primary patient tumor tissues instead of cell lines grown in the laboratory. Previous studies have suggested that cell lines may be of limited use for studying the tumor epigenome. The three Group 3 medulloblastoma cell lines used in this study reinforced the observation, highlighting significant differences in epigenetic regulators at work in medulloblastoma cell lines versus tumor samples.

 

 

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Poverty and the American Dream

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

 

Brookings Institute: Poverty Report

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2015/12/aei-brookings-poverty-report/Chapter-1.pdf

Chapter 1:

Introduction

In 1931, the writer James Truslow Adams coined the term “The American Dream.” His definition holds up well today. The dream, he said, is of a land in which: life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are … capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.1

Today, many Americans fear that our country is no longer a land of opportunity. Although social mobility overall seems not to have decreased in recent decades,2 there is evidence that it is lower in America than in many other advanced economies.3 Scholars on both the left and the right are also increasingly worried that children growing up today in lower-income families have fewer social supports and pathways into the middle class than in past generations. As Robert Putnam showed in his recent book Our Kids, 4 children from wellto-do families today enjoy more material, emotional, and educational support than ever before, but children from low-income families often grow up in homes, schools, and communities that are in disarray. Charles Murray reached similar conclusions in Coming Apart. 5

The trends aren’t entirely bleak, and poor children today are better off in several ways than they were a few decades ago. They have better access to healthcare, fewer of them are born to teen mothers, their parents have more education, they are exposed to fewer environmental toxins and violence, and fewer live in foster care. We should celebrate these advances. But the circumstances and outcomes of upper-income children have improved even more rapidly, leading to ever-widening inequality in the human and financial resources that boost child development. And on a few important factors, such as family stability, the circumstances of poor children have gotten worse.

The reasons for the increasing gaps between childhoods in different social classes are many and intertwined, including: the loss of manufacturing jobs, stagnating wages for workers without a college degree, labor-saving technological changes, changing relationships between workers and management, the increasing importance of education and training in a post-industrial economy, a less energetic civil society, high rates of incarceration, weaker attachment to the labor force among less-educated men, and the rising prevalence of single-parent families among the less-educated.

The poor prospects for children born into poor families are an urgent national concern. This state of affairs contradicts our country’s founding ideals. It weakens the promise that inspired so many immigrants to uproot themselves from everything familiar to seek freedom, self-determination, and better lives for their children in America. It holds particularly grave implications for the well being of blacks and for the future of racial equality so courageously fought for over the course of generations.

At its best, the American credo of freedom and individual initiative has been uniquely able to unleash the energy and imagination of its citizens, inspiring them, as Adams put it, “to attain to the fullest stature of which they are capable.”6 For many American families—including many low-income families—that dream is still possible. But large numbers of children live in disadvantaged and often chaotic homes and communities, attend schools that don’t prepare them to navigate an increasingly complex economy, and have parents (often a single parent) who work in low-wage jobs with variable and uncertain hours. The massive waste and loss of this human potential costs the United States in economic terms, and it is a tragedy in human terms. Most Americans would agree that we can do better.

The political difficulty arises when we turn to solutions. Most new ideas for helping the poor are controversial and expensive, and when one political party offers a proposal, the other party usually disagrees with its premises or specifics. The parties often have deep philosophical differences, but research also shows that the mere fact that one party proposes an idea can motivate partisans on the other side to dismiss it.7 And yet, points of agreement are emerging that could serve as a foundation for consensus. Most Americans and their political representatives tend to agree on several key points.

  1. First, for able-bodied Americans, it is far better to earn money than to depend on public assistance, although economic conditions sometimes prevent people from becoming self-sufficient.
  2. Second, children are on average better off growing up with two parents committed to each other for the long term, an arrangement most likely to occur within the context of marriage.
  3. And third, our schools don’t adequately prepare the young for the economic and social environment in which they must make their way.

THE AEI-BROOKINGS WORKING GROUP

Our report has three distinctive features.

  1. the diversity of our perspectives and experiences.    We share an intense belief that poverty and opportunity are profoundly consequential and that our nation’s future prosperity and our common humanity compel us to work together to find credible strategies to reduce poverty and increase economic mobility.
  2. we consider three major domains of life simultaneously: family, work, and education.    they are highly interconnected. Improving family stability helps children succeed in school; improving the fit between schools and jobs helps teenagers transition into the labor force; when young people can find work that pays well, they create more stable families, and the cycle continues.
  3. it is grounded in values—the three broadly shared American values of opportunity, responsibility, and security. Focusing on these shared values has made it easier for us to work together and find many points of agreement.

OPPORTUNITY The concept of “opportunity” draws nearly universal support among Americans, and it’s the core concept of the American Dream. We endorse Truslow Adams’ definition of opportunity as the state of affairs when “each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are capable,” regardless of the circumstances of their birth.8

RESPONSIBILITY America is a free society, but freedom comes with responsibilities. Responsibility is the state of being accountable for things over which one has control, or has a duty of care. Family life is a network of mutual responsibilities. So is work life. So is democratic citizenship.

The values of responsibility and opportunity are closely linked in the American mind. We can see the link in a line from President Clinton’s 1993 Labor Day speech that has had bipartisan resonance: We’ll think of the faith of our parents that was instilled in us here in America, the idea that if you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll be rewarded with a good life for yourself and a better chance for your children.10 The converse of this assertion is that if you fail to be responsible—if you don’t work hard or don’t play by the rules, then you aren’t entitled to a reward. These linked values of responsibility and opportunity were the linchpins of the bipartisan welfare reform law of 1996—whose official name included both “Personal Responsibility” and “Opportunity.”11

SECURITY Despite our best efforts to care for ourselves, we all know that life sometimes resembles a lottery.   The central idea of insurance is that we are all better off pooling some of the risks of life, and hoping that we never get to recover our insurance premiums.

Friedrich Hayek, an economist who was wary of collectivism in most forms and who is widely admired by conservatives, endorsed the value of security in 1944 in this famous passage from The Road to Serfdom: There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has . . . should not be guaranteed to all . . . some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision.12

Several decades of research show that increasing security for children can better prepare them to break the cycle of poverty and grow up to be more responsible adults. A child’s brain is highly malleable. In the early years, when it is growing rapidly, the young brain responds to cues about the kind of environment that surrounds it. When children are raised in a chaotic and unpredictable environment, they become more attracted to immediate rewards, rather than larger but more distant rewards.13   Although children have great resilience and the capacity to overcome their early environment, some children—especially if they don’t have the benefit of interventions that reduce the stress to which they are exposed—are overwhelmed by early stress and trauma and suffer permanent damage.16

Conversely, when children are raised in more stable and predictable environments, they are more likely to learn that it pays to defer gratification and reap larger rewards in the future. Low stress, high predictability, and strong, stable relationships with caring adults all help children become measurably better at self-regulating, delaying gratification, and controlling their impulses.17 If we want adult citizens who can exercise responsibility, we should do as much as we can to improve the security of childhood, especially among the poor.

These three values guide the rest of our report. We offer a comprehensive plan for reducing poverty and promoting economic opportunity in the United States. In each chapter, we evaluate the best evidence about current approaches and then recommend policies that will increase opportunity, encourage people to take greater responsibility for their own lives, and increase security, especially among lower-income Americans and their children.

In the final chapter, we summarize our recommendations and suggest how the nation can pay for the policies we propose. We also lay out a path by which our recommendations might be carried out, evaluated, and improved, despite America’s political polarization. We have negotiated and compromised to create a plan that we believe is the best way forward. We are all enthusiastic about the final product because we believe it will reduce poverty and increase opportunity in America.

 

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Socioeconomic factors involved in chronic illness

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

I have discussed a number of features of the health care system that are available to individuals and are becoming integrated over the last decade to a much greater extent than at the end of the last century.
Part of this has come because of an emergent view of health care markets and the patient base as a customer patient base.  Related to this view is the emergence over a quarter of a century of greater consolidation of heath care providers.  The first significant attempt to rationalize healthcare payments was with the development of diagnostic related groups by studies and proposals at Yale University School of Management under Robert Fetter. The first implementation was in New Jersey, prematurely supported by the Healthcare Financing Administration. As healthcare financing is usually predicated on HCFA, the insurance agencies, which includes negotiated for-profit entities follow suit.  However, it takes a large patient base to support any insurance provider, and with the not-for profit providers negotiating with large for-profit organizations, there is a tension and a balance that has to come with such a plan.  The existing system doesn’t support a fully nationalized system as exists elsewhere, and a two tiered system is almost inevitable.  In addition, our society, built by two centuries of immigration, and having a model system from the Kaiser Project in building the San Francisco bridge, that also influence IBM, employment-based insurance had a good start.  Government provision had to wait, with real success in the mid-twentieth century.

I have pointed out that the healthcare system has been in a remodeling process for the last quarter of a century aligned very much with business interests and the workforce. Even retirement insurance has been a worker innovation.  However, what is the underlying situation that arises from this arrangement.
The power of labor-unions has been eroded, which erodes an element of leverage.

At the beginning of the industrial revolution in England there was a seminal study that showed that the workers developed stress related illness that was not seen at the management level. In the US we have had streams of immigration and seemingly boundless innovation that has contributed to an impressive economic image of a country.  However, the story is also bimodal.  There is a strong cultural factor and family structure factor in both upward mobility and in resilience of the individual under stress.  This has been evident from observing the emergence of a former slavery descendent negro population and suppression of this people for a half century after the civil war, and more recently from migrations from Mexico, South America, and Cuba.  We have had a selective migration of educated people from India and Asia, being that they were of a more mobile class of achievers.  America, the home of the brave has been limited in representation.

What are the effects of this class disequilibrium?  As the country has growth and as companies have moved offshore for cheap labor, the power of labor declined, and the benefits of labor have been pushed down.  This resulted in a decline of the middle class, and levels of poverty and over the poverty line pushing families into considerable tension.  This is characterized by high divorce rates, and there are single mothers working two shifts, or both parents trying to balance the time available.

The problem here is like a compound fractured society.  The clustered neighborhoods are not just black, as a generation moved out and up, and property values dropped in once desirable neighborhoods.  The existence of a close community of common culture is workable as it is held together by common lineage. However, the fissures occur where the parents have no time for family, and the parents have no time to play with or read to their children.  This problem can be carried over from one generation to the next by failure in child development to gain basic living and society skills.  What we don’t happen to recognize is that as this multiplies, compounded by the highest level of incarceration in the Western world, there is uncontrolled violence, hatred, suicide, anger, and shortened lifespan.  This has a huge cost, and the cost weighs on the individuals affected and the communities they live in.  The cost includes the health burden.  Moreover, even though we have a large service sector with sports and exercise therapy, it may not be included in healthcare benefits, but is provided as add on to unreimbursed costs.

 

 

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