Archive for the ‘Signaling’ Category

Cellular switch molecule for sperm motility control: a novel target for male contraception and infertility treatments

Reporter and Curator: Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.


Researchers have discovered the cellular switch that boosts the activity of sperm cells so that they can travel to the egg.  The finding may lead to new options for male contraception as well as treatments for infertility resulting from problems with sperm mobility.

Inside the male reproductive tract, mature sperm are capable of limited movement. This limited movement, however, is not enough to propel them toward the egg when they enter the female reproductive tract. To begin their journey, they must first be activated by the hormone progesterone, which is released by the egg.

The researchers reported that the molecule to which progesterone must bind is the enzyme alpha/beta hydrolase domain containing protein 2 (ABHD2), found in the sperm cell’s outer membrane. Similarly, strategies to bypass or enhance the enzyme might provide therapies for treating infertility resulting from sperm that lack movement capability.

Before a sperm can transition to the hyper-active phase, calcium must pass through the cell’s outer membrane and enter the flagella, the tail-like appendage the cell uses to propel itself. The sperm protein known as CatSper joins with similar proteins in the flagella to allow the entry of calcium.

When the researchers undertook the current study, it was not known whether progesterone interacted directly with CatSper to trigger the calcium influx, or acted on some other molecule (which, in turn, acted on CatSper). Before treating sperm with progesterone, the researchers exposed them to a chemical that inhibits a particular class of enzymes that they believed could include the candidate molecule that acted on CatSper. The hunch proved correct: the treated cells remained inactive after progesterone exposure, indicating that CatSper was not directly involved.

Working with modified progesterone, the researchers eventually isolated ABHD2 from the sperm tails. When the researchers inactivated ABHD2, exposure to progesterone failed to activate the sperm cells, confirming that ABHD2 is the molecular target for progesterone.

All of the technical terminology aside, this means that the researchers have pinned down the cellular switch that boosts the sperm along to the egg, so by blocking the ABHD2 activity, new male birth control methods could be on the way. Conversely, enhancing the enzyme could lead to new treatments for male infertility.

It will be interesting to see how this discovery impacts future research concerning male birth control and infertility treatments. Perhaps it’s the missing piece of information that will quickly yield an effective new male contraception option.





Read Full Post »

Brain Biobank and studies of disease structure correlates

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Unveiling Psychiatric Diseases

Researchers create neuropsychiatric cellular biobank

Image: iStock/mstroz
Image: iStock/mstroz
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital have completed the first stage of an important collaboration aimed at understanding the intricate variables of neuropsychiatric disease—something that currently eludes clinicians and scientists.

The research team, led by Isaac Kohane at HMS and Roy Perlis at Mass General, has created a neuropsychiatric cellular biobank—one of the largest in the world.

It contains induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs, derived from skin cells taken from 100 people with neuropsychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression, and from 50 people without neuropsychiatric illness.

In addition, a detailed profile of each patient, obtained from hours of in-person assessment as well as from electronic medical records, is matched to each cell sample.

As a result, the scientific community can now for the first time access cells representing a broad swath of neuropsychiatric illness. This enables researchers to correlate molecular data with clinical information in areas such as variability of drug reactions between patients. The ultimate goal is to help treat, with greater precision, conditions that often elude effective management.

The cell collection and generation was led by investigators at Mass General, who in collaboration with Kohane and his team are working to characterize the cell lines at a molecular level. The cell repository, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is housed at Rutgers University.

“This biobank, in its current form, is only the beginning,” said Perlis, director of the MGH Psychiatry Center for Experimental Drugs and Diagnostics and HMS associate professor of psychiatry. “By next year we’ll have cells from a total of four hundred patients, with additional clinical detail and additional cell types that we will share with investigators.”

A current major limitation to understanding brain diseases is the inability to access brain biopsies on living patients. As a result, researchers typically study blood cells from patients or examine post-mortem tissue. This is in stark contrast with diseases such as cancer, for which there are many existing repositories of highly characterized cells from patients.

The new biobank offers a way to push beyond this limitation.


A Big Step Forward

While the biobank is already a boon to the scientific community, researchers at MGH and the HMS Department of Biomedical Informatics will be adding additional layers of molecular data to all of the cell samples. This information will include whole genome sequencing and transcriptomic and epigenetic profiling of brain cells made from the stem cell lines.

Collaborators in the HMS Department of Neurobiology, led by Michael Greenberg, department chair and Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology,  will also work to examine characteristics of other types of neurons derived from these stem cells.

“This can potentially alter the entire way we look at and diagnose many neuropsychiatric conditions,” said Perlis.

One example may be to understand how the cellular responses to medication correspond to the patient’s documented responses, comparing in vitro with in vivo. “This would be a big step forward in bringing precision medicine to psychiatry,” Perlis said.

“It’s important to recall that in the field of genomics, we didn’t find interesting connections to disease until we had large enough samples to really investigate these complex conditions,” said Kohane, chair of the HMS Department of Biomedical Informatics.

“Our hypothesis is that here we will require far fewer patients,” he said. “By measuring the molecular functioning of the cells of each patient rather than only their genetic risk, and combining that all that’s known of these people in terms of treatment response and cognitive function, we will discover a great deal of valuable information about these conditions.”

Added Perlis, “In the early days of genetics, there were frequent false positives because we were studying so few people. We’re hoping to avoid the same problem in making cellular models, by ensuring that we have a sufficient number of cell lines to be confident in reporting differences between patient groups.”

The generation of stem cell lines and characterization of patients and brain cell lines is funded jointly by the the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Human Genome Research Institute and a grant from the Centers of Excellence in Genomic Science program.


On C.T.E. and Athletes, Science Remains in Its Infancy

Se Hoon ChoiYoung Hye KimMatthias Hebisch, et al.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, characterized by two pathological hallmarks: amyloid-β plaques and neurofibrillary tangles1. The amyloid hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease posits that the excessive accumulation of amyloid-β peptide leads to neurofibrillary tangles composed of aggregated hyperphosphorylated tau2, 3. However, to date, no single disease model has serially linked these two pathological events using human neuronal cells. Mouse models with familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD) mutations exhibit amyloid-β-induced synaptic and memory deficits but they do not fully recapitulate other key pathological events of Alzheimer’s disease, including distinct neurofibrillary tangle pathology4, 5. Human neurons derived from Alzheimer’s disease patients have shown elevated levels of toxic amyloid-β species and phosphorylated tau but did not demonstrate amyloid-β plaques or neurofibrillary tangles6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. Here we report that FAD mutations in β-amyloid precursor protein and presenilin 1 are able to induce robust extracellular deposition of amyloid-β, including amyloid-β plaques, in a human neural stem-cell-derived three-dimensional (3D) culture system. More importantly, the 3D-differentiated neuronal cells expressing FAD mutations exhibited high levels of detergent-resistant, silver-positive aggregates of phosphorylated tau in the soma and neurites, as well as filamentous tau, as detected by immunoelectron microscopy. Inhibition of amyloid-β generation with β- or γ-secretase inhibitors not only decreased amyloid-β pathology, but also attenuated tauopathy. We also found that glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) regulated amyloid-β-mediated tau phosphorylation. We have successfully recapitulated amyloid-β and tau pathology in a single 3D human neural cell culture system. Our unique strategy for recapitulating Alzheimer’s disease pathology in a 3D neural cell culture model should also serve to facilitate the development of more precise human neural cell models of other neurodegenerative disorders.



Figure 2: Robust increases of extracellular amyloid-β deposits in 3D-differentiated hNPCs with FAD mutations.close

Robust increases of extracellular amyloid-[bgr] deposits in 3D-differentiated hNPCs with FAD mutations.

a, Thin-layer 3D culture protocol. HC, histochemistry; IF, immunofluorescence; IHC, immunohistochemistry. b, Amyloid-β deposits in 6-week differentiated control and FAD ReN cells in 3D Matrigel (green, GFP; blue, 3D6; scale bar, …


Stem Cell-Based Spinal Cord Repair Enables Robust Corticospinal Regeneration


Novel use of EPR spectroscopy to study in vivo protein structure


α-synuclein is a protein found abundantly throughout the brain. It is present mainly at the neuron ends where it is thought to play a role in ensuring the supply of synaptic vesicles in presynaptic terminals, which are required for the release of neurotransmitters to relay signals between neurons. It is critical for normal brain function.

However, α-synuclein is also the primary protein component of the cerebral amyloid deposits characteristic of Parkinson’s disease and its precursor is found in the amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s disease. Although α-synuclein is present in all areas of the brain, these disease-state amyloid plaques only arise in distinct areas.

Alpha-synuclein protein. May play role in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.  © /

Imaging of isolated samples of α-synuclein in vitro indicate that it does not have the precise 3D folded structure usually associated with proteins. It is therefore classed as an intrinsically disordered protein. However, it was not known whether the protein also lacked a precise structure in vivo.

There have been reports that it can form helical tetramers. Since the 3D structure of a biological protein is usually precisely matched to the specific function it performs, knowing the structure of α-synuclein within a living cell will help elucidate its role and may also improve understanding of the disease states with which it is associated.

If α-synuclein remains disordered in vivo, it may be possible for the protein to achieve different structures, and have different properties, depending on its surroundings.

Techniques for determining protein structure

It has long been known that elucidating the structure of a protein at an atomic level is fundamental for understanding its normal function and behavior. Furthermore, such knowledge can also facilitate the development of targeted drug treatments. Unfortunately, observing the atomic structure of a protein in vivo is not straightforward.

X-ray diffraction is the technique usually adopted for visualizing structures at atomic resolution, but this requires crystals of the molecule to be produced and this cannot be done without separating the molecules of interest from their natural environment. Such processes can modify the protein from its usual state and, particularly with complex structures, such effects are difficult to predict.

The development of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy improved the situation by making it possible for molecules to be analyzed under in vivo conditions, i.e. same pH, temperature and ionic concentration.

More recently, increases in the sensitivity of NMR and the use of isotope labelling have enabled determinations of the atomic level structure and dynamics of proteins to be determined within living cells1. NMR has been used to determine the structure of a bacterial protein within living cells2 but it is difficult to achieve sufficient quantities of the required protein within mammalian cells and to keep the cells alive for NMR imaging to be conducted.

Electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy for determining protein structure

Recently, researchers have managed to overcome these obstacles by using in-cell NMR and electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy. EPR spectroscopy is a technique that is similar to NMR spectroscopy in that it is based on the measurement and interpretation of the energy differences between excited and relaxed molecular states.

In EPR spectroscopy it is electrons that are excited, whereas in NMR signals are created through the spinning of atomic nuclei. EPR was developed to measure radicals and metal complexes, but has also been utilized to study the dynamic organization of lipids in biological membranes3.

EPR has now been used for the first time in protein structure investigations and has provided atomic-resolution information on the structure of α-synuclein in living mammalians4,5.

Bacterial forms of the α-synuclein protein labelled with 15N isotopes were introduced into five types of mammalian cell using electroporation. Concentrations of α-synuclein close to those found in vivo were achieved and the 15N isotopes allowed the protein to be clearly defined from other cellular components by NMR. The conformation of the protein was then determined using electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR).

The results showed that within living mammalian cells α-synuclein remains as a disordered and highly dynamic monomer. Different intracellular environments did not induce major conformational changes.


The novel use of EPR spectroscopy has resolved the mystery surrounding the in vivo conformation of α-synuclein. It showed that α-synuclein maintains its disordered monomeric form under physiological cell conditions. It has been demonstrated for the first time that even in crowded intracellular environments α-synuclein does not form oligomers, showing that intrinsic structural disorder can be sustained within mammalian cells.


  1. Freedberg DI and Selenko P. Live cell NMR Annu. Rev. Biophys. 2014;43:171–192.
  2. Sakakibara D, et al. Protein structure determination in living cells by in-cell NMR spectroscopy. Nature 2009;458:102–105.
  3. Yashroy RC. Magnetic resonance studies of dynamic organisation of lipids in chloroplast membranes. Journal of Biosciences 1990;15(4):281.
  4. Alderson TA and Bax AD. Parkinson’s Disease. Disorder in the court. Nature 2016; doi:10.1038/nature16871.
  5. Theillet FX, et al. Structural disorder of monomeric α-synuclein persists in mammalian cells. Nature 2016; doi:10.1038/nature16531.


Read Full Post »

Photo-Receptor Production

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP


Using Zinc Finger Nuclease Technology to Generate CRX-Reporter Human Embryonic Stem Cells as a Tool to Identify and Study the Emergence of Photoreceptors Precursors During Pluripotent Stem Cell Differentiation

Joseph Collin1, Carla B Mellough1, Birthe Dorgau1, Stefan Przyborski2, Inmaculada Moreno-Gimeno3 and Majlinda Lako1,*

STEM CELLS Feb 2016  34(2), pages 311–321,


The purpose of this study was to generate human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines harboring the green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter at the endogenous loci of the Cone-Rod Homeobox (CRX) gene, a key transcription factor in retinal development. Zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) designed to cleave in the 3′ UTR of CRX were transfected into hESCs along with a donor construct containing homology to the target region, eGFP reporter, and a puromycin selection cassette. Following selection, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequencing analysis of antibiotic resistant clones indicated targeted integration of the reporter cassette at the 3′ of the CRX gene, generating a CRX-GFP fusion. Further analysis of a clone exhibiting homozygote integration of the GFP reporter was conducted suggesting genomic stability was preserved and no other copies of the targeting cassette were inserted elsewhere within the genome. This clone was selected for differentiation towards the retinal lineage. Immunocytochemistry of sections obtained from embryoid bodies and quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR of GFP positive and negative subpopulations purified by fluorescence activated cell sorting during the differentiation indicated a significant correlation between GFP and endogenous CRX expression. Furthermore, GFP expression was found in photoreceptor precursors emerging during hESC differentiation, but not in the retinal pigmented epithelium, retinal ganglion cells, or neurons of the developing inner nuclear layer. Together our data demonstrate the successful application of ZFN technology to generate CRX-GFP labeled hESC lines, which can be used to study and isolate photoreceptor precursors during hESC differentiation. Stem Cells 2016;34:311–321


A New Tool for Photoreceptor Production to Treat Vision Loss


Review of “Using Zinc Finger Nuclease Technology to Generate CRX-Reporter Human Embryonic Stem Cells as a Tool to Identify and Study the Emergence of Photoreceptors Precursors during Pluripotent Stem Cell Differentiation” from Stem Cells by Stuart P. Atkinson

The production of replacement cells from human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) sources has great potential for the treatment of certain forms of vision impairment and blindness. The production of functional stem cell-derived retinal-pigmented epithelium (RPE) is already a notable success, although the equivalent success in photoreceptor cell production has so far lagged behind, due partly to the lack of robust human cell surface markers to allow their purification.

To get round this problem, canny researchers from the laboratory of Majlinda Lako (Newcastle University, United Kingdom) have used zinc finger nuclease (ZFN) gene editing technology to create a reporter embryonic stem cell (ESC) line suitable for the enhanced production of photoreceptor cells [1].

The authors targeted a green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter into the endogenous locus of the Cone-Rod Homeobox (CRX) transcription factor gene which is known to be selectively expressed post-mitotic retinal photoreceptor precursors. The integration of this reporter into hESCs did not negatively affect genomic stability or pluripotency and, following 3D differentiation to form laminated neural retina [2], GFP expression faithfully mimicked the known expression patterns of CRX (See Figure).

In-depth expression analysis of CRX-positive cells then demonstrated the restriction of GFP-CRX to only two cell types within the 90-day differentiation protocol: RECOVERIN-expressing photoreceptor precursors situated in the developing outer nuclear layer of the optic cup and a subpopulation of non-proliferative retinal progenitors. Importantly, the study detected the expression of genes known to be activated by CRX, so suggesting that GFP-targeting does not affect the functionality of the transcription factor.

In conclusion, the authors have created a CRX-GFP-labeled hESC line which can be used to identify, purify, and study photoreceptor precursors during hESC differentiation, in the hope of improving differentiation protocols, discovering cell surface markers, and developing clinically applicable strategies for transplantation. A great tool for those working towards generating treatments for vision impairment and blindness.


  1. Collin J, Mellough CB, Dorgau B, et al. Using Zinc Finger Nuclease Technology to Generate CRX-Reporter Human Embryonic Stem Cells as a Tool to Identify and Study the Emergence of Photoreceptors Precursors During Pluripotent Stem Cell Differentiation. STEM CELLS 2016;34:311-321.
  2. Mellough CB, Collin J, Khazim M, et al. IGF-1 Signaling Plays an Important Role in the Formation of Three-Dimensional Laminated Neural Retina and Other Ocular Structures From Human Embryonic Stem Cells. Stem Cells 2015;33:2416-2430.


Read Full Post »

A Reconstructed View of Personalized Medicine

Author: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP


There has always been Personalized Medicine if you consider the time a physician spends with a patient, which has dwindled. But the current recognition of personalized medicine refers to breakthrough advances in technological innovation in diagnostics and treatment that differentiates subclasses within diagnoses that are amenable to relapse eluding therapies.  There are just a few highlights to consider:

  1. We live in a world with other living beings that are adapting to a changing environmental stresses.
  2. Nutritional resources that have been available and made plentiful over generations are not abundant in some climates.
  3. Despite the huge impact that genomics has had on biological progress over the last century, there is a huge contribution not to be overlooked in epigenetics, metabolomics, and pathways analysis.

A Reconstructed View of Personalized Medicine

There has been much interest in ‘junk DNA’, non-coding areas of our DNA are far from being without function. DNA has two basic categories of nitrogenous bases: the purines (adenine [A] and guanine [G]), and the pyrimidines (cytosine [C], thymine [T], and  no uracil [U]),  while RNA contains only A, G, C, and U (no T).  The Watson-Crick proposal set the path of molecular biology for decades into the 21st century, culminating in the Human Genome Project.

There is no uncertainty about the importance of “Junk DNA”.  It is both an evolutionary remnant, and it has a role in cell regulation.  Further, the role of histones in their relationship the oligonucleotide sequences is not understood.  We now have a large output of research on noncoding RNA, including siRNA, miRNA, and others with roles other than transcription. This requires major revision of our model of cell regulatory processes.  The classic model is solely transcriptional.

  • DNA-> RNA-> Amino Acid in a protein.

Redrawn we have

  • DNA-> RNA-> DNA and
  • DNA->RNA-> protein-> DNA.

Neverthess, there were unrelated discoveries that took on huge importance.  For example, since the 1920s, the work of Warburg and Meyerhoff, followed by that of Krebs, Kaplan, Chance, and others built a solid foundation in the knowledge of enzymes, coenzymes, adenine and pyridine nucleotides, and metabolic pathways, not to mention the importance of Fe3+, Cu2+, Zn2+, and other metal cofactors.  Of huge importance was the work of Jacob, Monod and Changeux, and the effects of cooperativity in allosteric systems and of repulsion in tertiary structure of proteins related to hydrophobic and hydrophilic interactions, which involves the effect of one ligand on the binding or catalysis of another,  demonstrated by the end-product inhibition of the enzyme, L-threonine deaminase (Changeux 1961), L-isoleucine, which differs sterically from the reactant, L-threonine whereby the former could inhibit the enzyme without competing with the latter. The current view based on a variety of measurements (e.g., NMR, FRET, and single molecule studies) is a ‘‘dynamic’’ proposal by Cooper and Dryden (1984) that the distribution around the average structure changes in allostery affects the subsequent (binding) affinity at a distant site.

What else do we have to consider?  The measurement of free radicals has increased awareness of radical-induced impairment of the oxidative/antioxidative balance, essential for an understanding of disease progression.  Metal-mediated formation of free radicals causes various modifications to DNA bases, enhanced lipid peroxidation, and altered calcium and sulfhydryl homeostasis. Lipid peroxides, formed by the attack of radicals on polyunsaturated fatty acid residues of phospholipids, can further react with redox metals finally producing mutagenic and carcinogenic malondialdehyde, 4-hydroxynonenal and other exocyclic DNA adducts (etheno and/or propano adducts). The unifying factor in determining toxicity and carcinogenicity for all these metals is the generation of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. Various studies have confirmed that metals activate signaling pathways and the carcinogenic effect of metals has been related to activation of mainly redox sensitive transcription factors, involving NF-kappaB, AP-1 and p53.

I have provided mechanisms explanatory for regulation of the cell that go beyond the classic model of metabolic pathways associated with the cytoplasm, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, and lysosome, such as, the cell death pathways, expressed in apoptosis and repair.  Nevertheless, there is still a missing part of this discussion that considers the time and space interactions of the cell, cellular cytoskeleton and extracellular and intracellular substrate interactions in the immediate environment.

There is heterogeneity among cancer cells of expected identical type, which would be consistent with differences in phenotypic expression, aligned with epigenetics.  There is also heterogeneity in the immediate interstices between cancer cells.  Integration with genome-wide profiling data identified losses of specific genes on 4p14 and 5q13 that were enriched in grade 3 tumors with high microenvironmental diversity that also substratified patients into poor prognostic groups. In the case of breast cancer, there is interaction with estrogen , and we refer to an androgen-unresponsive prostate cancer.

Finally,  the interaction between enzyme and substrates may be conditionally unidirectional in defining the activity within the cell.  The activity of the cell is dynamically interacting and at high rates of activity.  In a study of the pyruvate kinase (PK) reaction the catalytic activity of the PK reaction was reversed to the thermodynamically unfavorable direction in a muscle preparation by a specific inhibitor. Experiments found that in there were differences in the active form of pyruvate kinase that were clearly related to the environmental condition of the assay – glycolitic or glyconeogenic. The conformational changes indicated by differential regulatory response were used to present a dynamic conformational model functioning at the active site of the enzyme. In the model, the interaction of the enzyme active site with its substrates is described concluding that induced increase in the vibrational energy levels of the active site decreases the energetic barrier for substrate induced changes at the site. Another example is the inhibition of H4 lactate dehydrogenase, but not the M4, by high concentrations of pyruvate. An investigation of the inhibition revealed that a covalent bond was formed between the nicotinamide ring of the NAD+ and the enol form of pyruvate.  The isoenzymes of isocitrate dehydrogenase, IDH1 and IDH2 mutations occur in gliomas and in acute myeloid leukemias with normal karyotype. IDH1 and IDH2 mutations are remarkably specific to codons that encode conserved functionally important arginines in the active site of each enzyme. In this case, there is steric hindrance by Asp279 where the isocitrate substrate normally forms hydrogen bonds with Ser94.

Personalized medicine has been largely viewed from a lens of genomics.  But genomics is only the reading frame.  The living activities of cell processes are dynamic and occur at rapid rates.  We have to keep in mind that personalized in reference to genotype is not complete without reconciliation of phenotype, which is the reference to expressed differences in outcomes.


Read Full Post »

There are three calcium-channel blocking drugs available, but only verapamil possesses significant clinical antiarrhythmic effects. Since the drug affects

Sourced through from:

See on Scoop.itCardiovascular Disease: PHARMACO-THERAPY

Read Full Post »

Reverse Engineering of Vision

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



CMU announces research project to reverse-engineer brain algorithms, funded by IARPA

A Human Genome Project-level plan to make computers learn like humans
February 5, 2016

Individual brain cells within a neural network are highlighted in this image obtained using a fluorescent imaging technique (credit: Sandra Kuhlman/CMU)

Carnegie Mellon University is embarking on a five-year, $12 million research effort to reverse-engineer the brain and “make computers think more like humans,” funded by the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). The research is led by Tai Sing Lee, a professor in the Computer Science Department and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC).

The research effort, through IARPA’s Machine Intelligence from Cortical Networks (MICrONS) research program, is part of the U.S. BRAIN Initiative to revolutionize the understanding of the human brain.

A “Human Genome Project” for the brain’s visual system

“MICrONS is similar in design and scope to the Human Genome Project, which first sequenced and mapped all human genes,” Lee said. “Its impact will likely be long-lasting and promises to be a game changer in neuroscience and artificial intelligence.”

The researchers will attempt to discover the principles and rules the brain’s visual system uses to process information. They believe this deeper understanding could serve as a springboard to revolutionize machine learning algorithms and computer vision.

In particular, the researchers seek to improve the performance of artificial neural networks — computational models for artificial intelligence inspired by the central nervous systems of animals. Interest in neural nets has recently undergone a resurgence thanks to growing computational power and datasets. Neural nets now are used in a wide variety of applications in which computers can learn to recognize faces, understand speech and handwriting, make decisions for self-driving cars, perform automated trading and detect financial fraud.

How neurons in one region of the visual cortex behave

“But today’s neural nets use algorithms that were essentially developed in the early 1980s,” Lee said. “Powerful as they are, they still aren’t nearly as efficient or powerful as those used by the human brain. For instance, to learn to recognize an object, a computer might need to be shown thousands of labeled examples and taught in a supervised manner, while a person would require only a handful and might not need supervision.”

To better understand the brain’s connections, Sandra Kuhlman, assistant professor of biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon and the CNBC, will use a technique called “two-photon calcium imaging microscopy” to record signaling of tens of thousands of individual neurons in mice as they process visual information, an unprecedented feat. In the past, only a single neuron, or tens of neurons, typically have been sampled in an experiment, she noted.

“By incorporating molecular sensors to monitor neural activity in combination with sophisticated optical methods, it is now possible to simultaneously track the neural dynamics of most, if not all, of the neurons within a brain region,” Kuhlman said. “As a result we will produce a massive dataset that will give us a detailed picture of how neurons in one region of the visual cortex behave.”

A multi-institution research team

Other collaborators are Alan Yuille, the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University, and another MICrONS team at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, led by George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School.

The Harvard-led team, working with investigators at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, MIT, and Columbia University, is developing revolutionary techniques to reconstruct the complete circuitry of the neurons recorded at CMU. The database, along with two other databases contributed by other MICrONS teams, unprecedented in scale, will be made publicly available for research groups all over the world.

In this MICrONS project, CMU researchers and their collaborators in other universities will use these massive databases to evaluate a number of computational and learning models as they improve their understanding of the brain’s computational principles and reverse-engineer the data to build better computer algorithms for learning and pattern recognition.

“The hope is that this knowledge will lead to the development of a new generation of machine learning algorithms that will allow AI machines to learn without supervision and from a few examples, which are hallmarks of human intelligence,” Lee said.

The CNBC is a collaborative center between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. BrainHub is a neuroscience research initiative that brings together the university’s strengths in biology, computer science, psychology, statistics and engineering to foster research on understanding how the structure and activity of the brain give rise to complex behaviors.

The MICrONS team at CMU allso includes Abhinav Gupta, assistant professor of robotics; Gary Miller, professor of computer science; Rob Kass, professor of statistics and machine learning and interim co-director of the CNBC; Byron Yu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering and the CNBC; Steve Chase, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and the CNBC; and Ruslan Salakhutdinov, one of the co-creators of the deep belief network, a new model of machine learning that was inspired by recurrent connections in the brain, who will join CMU as an assistant professor of machine learning in the fall.

Other members of the team include Brent Doiron, associate professor of mathematics at Pitt, and Spencer Smith, assistant professor of neuroscience and neuro-engineering at the University of North Carolina.

Not all machine-intelligence experts are on board with reverse-engineering the brain. In a Facebook post today, Yann LeCun, Director of AI Research at Facebook and a professor at New York University, asked the question in a recent lecture, “Should we copy the brain to build intelligent machines?” “My answer was ‘no, because we need to understand the underlying principles of intelligence to know what to copy. But we should draw inspiration from biology.’”


Read Full Post »

Reinforced disordered cell expression

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Diabetes, Alzheimer’s Share Molecular Pathways, Part of Same Vicious Cycle

A molecular-level link has been found that helps explain the poorly understood association between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Both disorders can drive and be driven by the same pathological process, the disruption of a particular kind of post-translational modification called S-nitrosylation. Thus, the disorders can reinforce each other. [© freshidea/Fotolia]


Though they appear to be distinct, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease have much in common at the molecular level. In fact, recent findings indicate that either disease can worsen the other by disrupting the same chemical process—S-nitrosylation, a form of post-translational modification that is necessary for the proper functioning of multiple enzymes.

S-nitrosylation, it turns out, can be disrupted by excess sugar or β-amyloid protein, either of which can wreak havoc by increasing the levels of nitric oxide and other free radical species. Once S-nitrosylation is disturbed and poorly functioning enzymes are produced, the downstream effects include abnormal increases in both insulin and β-amyloid protein.

Thus, diabetes and Alzheimer’s can drive, and be driven by, the same vicious cycle. Furthermore, either can contribute to the other’s progress. These results emerged from a study completed by researchers based at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute and the Scintillon Institute. The research team was led by Stuart A. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., a physician-scientist affiliated with both institutions.

“This work points to a new common pathway to attack both type 2 diabetes, along with its harbinger, metabolic syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease,” stated Dr. Lipton.

The researchers published their work January 8 in the journal Nature Communications in an article entitled, “Elevated glucose and oligomeric β-amyloid disrupt synapses via a common pathway of aberrant protein S-nitrosylation.” This article describes how the scientists used a so-called “disease-in-a-dish” model to discover molecular pathways that are in common in both diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Specifically, the scientists genetically reprogrammed the skin of human patients to make induced pluripotent stem cells, which were then used to derive nerve cells. They also used mouse models of each disease to analyze the combined effects of high blood sugar and β-amyloid protein in living animals.

“[We] report in human and rodent tissues that elevated glucose, as found in [metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes] and oligomeric β-amyloid (Aβ) peptide, thought to be a key mediator of [Alzheimer’s disease], coordinately increase neuronal Ca2+ and nitric oxide (NO) in an NMDA receptor-dependent manner,” wrote the authors of the Nature Communications article. “The increase in NO results in S-nitrosylation of insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE) and dynamin-related protein 1 (Drp1), thus inhibiting insulin and Aβ catabolism as well as hyperactivating mitochondrial fission machinery.”

The scientists also found that the changes in enzyme activity led to damage of synapses, the region where nerve cells communicate with one another in the brain. The combination of high sugar and β-amyloid protein caused the greatest loss of synapses. Since loss of synapses correlates with cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s, high sugar and β-amyloid coordinately contribute to memory loss.

“The NMDA receptor antagonist memantine attenuates these effects,” the authors continued. “Our studies show that redox-mediated posttranslational modification of brain proteins link Aβ and hyperglyaemia to cognitive dysfunction in [metabolic syndrome/type 2 diabetes] and [Alzheimer’s disease].”

“[Our work] means that we now know these diseases are related on a molecular basis, and hence, they can be treated with new drugs on a common basis,” stated Dr. Ambasudhan, a senior author of the study and an assistant professor at Scintillon.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »