Posts Tagged ‘Aging’

Effect of mitochondrial stress on epigenetic modifiers

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Early Mitochondrial Stress Alters Epigenetics, Secures Lifelong Health Benefits

GEN 5/3/2016

A little adversity builds character, or so the saying goes. True or not, the saying does seem an apt description of a developmental phenomenon that shapes gene expression. While it knows nothing of character, the gene expression apparatus appears to respond well to short-term mitochondrial stress that occurs early in development. In fact, transient stress seems to result in lasting benefits. These benefits, which include improved metabolic function and increased longevity, have been observed in both worms and mice, and may even occur—or be made to occur—in humans.

Gene expression is known to be subject to reprogramming by epigenetic modifiers, but such modifiers generally affect metabolism or lifespan, not both. A new set of epigenetic modifiers, however, has been found to trigger changes that do just that—both improve metabolism and extend lifespan.

Scientists based at the University of California, Berkeley, and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have discovered enzymes that are ramped up after mild stress during early development and continue to affect the expression of genes throughout the animal’s life. When the scientists looked at strains of inbred mice that have radically different lifespans, those with the longest lifespans had significantly higher expression of these enzymes than did the short-lived mice.

“Two of the enzymes we discovered are highly, highly correlated with lifespan; it is the biggest genetic correlation that has ever been found for lifespan in mice, and they’re both naturally occurring variants,” said Andrew Dillin, a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology. “Based on what we see in worms, boosting these enzymes could reprogram your metabolism to create better health, with a possible side effect of altering lifespan.”

Details of the work, which appeared online April 29 in the journal Cell, are presented in a pair of papers. One paper (“Two Conserved Histone Demethylases Regulate Mitochondrial Stress-Induced Longevity”) resulted from an effort led by Dillin and the EPFL’s Johan Auwerx. The other paper (“Mitochondrial Stress Induces Chromatin Reorganization to Promote Longevity and UPRmt”) resulted from an effort led by Dillin and his UC Berkeley colleague Barbara Meyer.

According to these papers, mitochondrial stress activates enzymes in the brain that affect DNA folding, exposing a segment of DNA that contains the 1500 genes involved in the work of the mitochondria. A second set of enzymes then tags these genes, affecting their activation for much or all of the lifetime of the animal and causing permanent changes in how the mitochondria generates energy.

The first set of enzymes—methylases, in particular LIN-65—add methyl groups to the DNA, which can silence promoters and thus suppress gene expression. By also opening up the mitochondrial genes, these methylases set the stage for the second set of enzymes—demethylases, in this case jmjd-1.2 and jmjd-3.1—to ramp up transcription of the mitochondrial genes. When the researchers artificially increased production of the demethylases in worms, all the worms lived longer, a result identical to what is observed after mitochondrial stress.

“By changing the epigenetic state, these enzymes are able to switch genes on and off,” Dillin noted. This happens only in the brain of the worm, however, in areas that sense hunger or satiety. “These genes are expressed in neurons that are sensing the nutritional status of the animal, and these signals emanate out to the periphery to change peripheral metabolism,” he continued.

When the scientists profiled enzymes in short- and long-lived mice, they found upregulation of these genes in the brains of long-lived mice, but not in other tissues or in the brains of short-lived mice. “These genes are expressed in the hypothalamus, exactly where, when you eat, the signals are generated that tell you that you are full. And when you are hungry, signals in that region tell you to go and eat,” Dillin explained said. “These genes are all involved in peripheral feedback.”

Among the mitochondrial genes activated by these enzymes are those involved in the body’s response to proteins that unfold, which is a sign of stress. Increased activity of the proteins that refold other proteins is another hallmark of longer life.

These observations suggest that the reversal of aging by epigenetic enzymes could also take place in humans.

“It seems that, while extreme metabolic stress can lead to problems later in life, mild stress early in development says to the body, ‘Whoa, things are a little bit off-kilter here, let’s try to repair this and make it better.’ These epigenetic switches keep this up for the rest of the animal’s life,” Dillin stated.


Two Conserved Histone Demethylases Regulate Mitochondrial Stress-Induced Longevity

Carsten Merkwirth6, Virginija Jovaisaite6, Jenni Durieux,…., Reuben J. Shaw, Johan Auwerx, Andrew Dillin

  • H3K27 demethylases jmjd-1.2 and jmjd-3.1 are required for ETC-mediated longevity
  • jmjd-1.2 and jmjd-3.1 extend lifespan and are sufficient for UPRmt activation
  • UPRmt is required for increased lifespan due to jmjd-1.2 or jmjd-3.1 overexpression
  • JMJD expression is correlated with UPRmt and murine lifespan in inbred BXD lines

Across eukaryotic species, mild mitochondrial stress can have beneficial effects on the lifespan of organisms. Mitochondrial dysfunction activates an unfolded protein response (UPRmt), a stress signaling mechanism designed to ensure mitochondrial homeostasis. Perturbation of mitochondria during larval development in C. elegans not only delays aging but also maintains UPRmt signaling, suggesting an epigenetic mechanism that modulates both longevity and mitochondrial proteostasis throughout life. We identify the conserved histone lysine demethylases jmjd-1.2/PHF8 and jmjd-3.1/JMJD3 as positive regulators of lifespan in response to mitochondrial dysfunction across species. Reduction of function of the demethylases potently suppresses longevity and UPRmt induction, while gain of function is sufficient to extend lifespan in a UPRmt-dependent manner. A systems genetics approach in the BXD mouse reference population further indicates conserved roles of the mammalian orthologs in longevity and UPRmt signaling. These findings illustrate an evolutionary conserved epigenetic mechanism that determines the rate of aging downstream of mitochondrial perturbations.

Figure thumbnail fx1


Mitochondrial Stress Induces Chromatin Reorganization to Promote Longevity and UPRmt
Ye Tian, Gilberto Garcia, Qian Bian, Kristan K. Steffen, Larry Joe, Suzanne Wolff, Barbara J. Meyer, Andrew Dillincorrespondence             Publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof
  • LIN-65 accumulates in the nucleus in response to mitochondrial stress
  • Mitochondrial stress-induced chromatin changes depend on MET-2 and LIN-65
  • LIN-65 and DVE-1 exhibit interdependence in nuclear accumulation
  • met-2 and atfs-1 act in parallel to affect mitochondrial stress-induced longevity

Organisms respond to mitochondrial stress through the upregulation of an array of protective genes, often perpetuating an early response to metabolic dysfunction across a lifetime. We find that mitochondrial stress causes widespread changes in chromatin structure through histone H3K9 di-methylation marks traditionally associated with gene silencing. Mitochondrial stress response activation requires the di-methylation of histone H3K9 through the activity of the histone methyltransferase met-2 and the nuclear co-factor lin-65. While globally the chromatin becomes silenced by these marks, remaining portions of the chromatin open up, at which point the binding of canonical stress responsive factors such as DVE-1 occurs. Thus, a metabolic stress response is established and propagated into adulthood of animals through specific epigenetic modifications that allow for selective gene expression and lifespan extension

 Siddharta Mukherjee’s Writing Career Just Got Dealt a Sucker Punch
Author: Theral Timpson

Siddharha Mukherjee won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction for his book, The Emperor of All Maladies.  The book has received widespread acclaim among lay audience, physicians, and scientists alike.  Last year the book was turned into a special PBS series.  But, according to a slew of scientists, we should all be skeptical of his next book scheduled to hit book shelves this month, The Gene, An Intimate History.

Publishing an article on epigenetics in the New Yorker this week–perhaps a selection from his new book–Mukherjee has waltzed into one of the most active scientific debates in all of biology: that of gene regulation, or epigenetics.

Jerry Coyne, the evolutionary biologist known for keeping journalists honest, has published a two part critique of Mukherjee’s New Yorker piece.  The first part–wildly tweeted yesterday–is a list of quotes from Coyne’s colleagues and those who have written in to the New Yorker, including two Nobel prize winners, Wally Gilbert and Sidney Altman, offering some very unfriendly sentences.

Wally Gilbert: “The New Yorker article is so wildly wrong that it defies rational analysis.”

Sidney Altman:  “I am not aware that there is such a thing as an epigenetic code.  It is unfortunate to inflict this article, without proper scientific review, on the audience of the New Yorker.”

The second part is a thorough scientific rebuttal of the Mukherjee piece.  It all serves as a great drama about one of the most contested ideas in biology and also as a cautionary tale to journalists, even experienced writers such as Mukherjee, about the dangers of wading into scientific arguments.  Readers may remember that a few years ago, science writer, David Dobbs, similarly skated into the same topic with his piece, Die, Selfish Gene, Die, and which raised a similar shitstorm, much of it from Coyne.

Mukherjee’s mistake is in giving credence to only one side of a very fierce debate–that the environment causes changes in the genome which can be passed on; another kind of evolution–as though it were settled science.   Either Mukherjee, a physicisan coming off from a successful book and PBS miniseries on cancer, is setting himself up as a scientist, or he has been a truly naive science reporter.   If he got this chapter so wrong, what does it mean about an entire book on the gene?

Coyne quotes one of his colleagues who raised some questions about the New Yorker’s science reporting, one particular question we’ve been asking here at Mendelspod.  How do we know what we know?  Does science now have an edge on any other discipline for being able to create knowledge?

Coyne’s colleague is troubled by science coverage in the New Yorker, and goes so far as to write that the New Yorker has been waging a “war on behalf of cultural critics and literary intellectuals against scientists and technologists.”

From my experience, it’s not quite that tidy.  First of all, the New Yorker is the best writing I read each week.  Period.  Second, I haven’t found their science writing to have the slant claimed in the quote above.  For example, most other mainstream outlets–including the New York Times with the Amy Harmon pieces–have given the anti-GMO crowd an equal say in the mistaken search for a “balance” on whether GMOs are harmful.  (Remember John Stewart’s criticism of Fox News?  That they give a false equivalent between two sides even when there is no equivalent on the other side?)

But the New Yorker has not fallen into this trap on GMOs and most of their pieces on the topic–mainly by Michael Specter–have been decidedly pro science and therefore decided pro GMO.

So what led Mukherjee to play scientist as well as journalist?  There’s no question about whether I enjoy his prose.  His writing beautifully whisks me away so that I don’t feel that I’m really working to understand.  There is a poetic complexity that constantly brings different threads effortlessly together, weaving them into the same light.  At one point he uses the metaphor of a web for the genome, with the epigenome being the stuff that sticks to the web.  He borrows the metaphor from the Hindu notion of “being”, or jaal.

“Genes form the threads of the web; the detritus that adheres to it transforms every web into a singular being.”

There have been a few writers on Twitter defending Mukherjee’s piece.  Tech Review’s Antonio Regalado called Coyne and his colleagues “tedious literalists” who have an “issue with epigenetic poetry.”

At his best, Mukherjee can take us down the sweet alleys of his metaphors and family stories with a new curiosity for the scientific truth.  He can hold a mirror up to scientists, or put the spotlight on their work.   At their worst, Coyne and his scientific colleagues can reek of a fear of language and therefore metaphor.  The always outspoken scientist and author, Richard Dawkins, who made his name by personifying the gene, was quick to personify epigentics in a tweet:   “It’s high time the 15 minutes of underserved fame for “epigenetics” came to an overdue end.”  Dawkins is that rare scientist who has consistently been as comfortable with rhetoric and language as he is with data.

Hats off to Coyne who reminds us that a metaphor–however lovely–does not some science make. If Mukherjee wants to play scientist, let him create and gather data. If it’s the role of science journalist he wants, let him collect all the science he can before he begins to pour it into his poetry.


Same but Different  

How epigenetics can blur the line between nature and nurture.

Annals of Science MAY 2, 2016 ISSUE     BY

The author’s mother (right) and her twin are a study in difference and identity. CREDIT: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAYANITA SINGH FOR THE NEW YORKER

October 6, 1942, my mother was born twice in Delhi. Bulu, her identical twin, came first, placid and beautiful. My mother, Tulu, emerged several minutes later, squirming and squalling. The midwife must have known enough about infants to recognize that the beautiful are often the damned: the quiet twin, on the edge of listlessness, was severely undernourished and had to be swaddled in blankets and revived.

The first few days of my aunt’s life were the most tenuous. She could not suckle at the breast, the story runs, and there were no infant bottles to be found in Delhi in the forties, so she was fed through a cotton wick dipped in milk, and then from a cowrie shell shaped like a spoon. When the breast milk began to run dry, at seven months, my mother was quickly weaned so that her sister could have the last remnants.
Tulu and Bulu grew up looking strikingly similar: they had the same freckled skin, almond-shaped face, and high cheekbones, unusual among Bengalis, and a slight downward tilt of the outer edge of the eye, something that Italian painters used to make Madonnas exude a mysterious empathy. They shared an inner language, as so often happens with twins; they had jokes that only the other twin understood. They even smelled the same: when I was four or five and Bulu came to visit us, my mother, in a bait-and-switch trick that amused her endlessly, would send her sister to put me to bed; eventually, searching in the half-light for identity and difference—for the precise map of freckles on her face—I would realize that I had been fooled.

But the differences were striking, too. My mother was boisterous. She had a mercurial temper that rose fast and died suddenly, like a gust of wind in a tunnel. Bulu was physically timid yet intellectually more adventurous. Her mind was more agile, her tongue sharper, her wit more lancing. Tulu was gregarious. She made friends easily. She was impervious to insults. Bulu was reserved, quieter, and more brittle. Tulu liked theatre and dancing. Bulu was a poet, a writer, a dreamer.

….. more

Why are identical twins alike? In the late nineteen-seventies, a team of scientists in Minnesota set out to determine how much these similarities arose from genes, rather than environments—from “nature,” rather than “nurture.” Scouring thousands of adoption records and news clips, the researchers gleaned a rare cohort of fifty-six identical twins who had been separated at birth. Reared in different families and different cities, often in vastly dissimilar circumstances, these twins shared only their genomes. Yet on tests designed to measure personality, attitudes, temperaments, and anxieties, they converged astonishingly. Social and political attitudes were powerfully correlated: liberals clustered with liberals, and orthodoxy was twinned with orthodoxy. The same went for religiosity (or its absence), even for the ability to be transported by an aesthetic experience. Two brothers, separated by geographic and economic continents, might be brought to tears by the same Chopin nocturne, as if responding to some subtle, common chord struck by their genomes.

One pair of twins both suffered crippling migraines, owned dogs that they had named Toy, married women named Linda, and had sons named James Allan (although one spelled the middle name with a single “l”). Another pair—one brought up Jewish, in Trinidad, and the other Catholic, in Nazi Germany, where he joined the Hitler Youth—wore blue shirts with epaulets and four pockets, and shared peculiar obsessive behaviors, such as flushing the toilet before using it. Both had invented fake sneezes to diffuse tense moments. Two sisters—separated long before the development of language—had invented the same word to describe the way they scrunched up their noses: “squidging.” Another pair confessed that they had been haunted by nightmares of being suffocated by various metallic objects—doorknobs, fishhooks, and the like.

The Minnesota twin study raised questions about the depth and pervasiveness of qualities specified by genes: Where in the genome, exactly, might one find the locus of recurrent nightmares or of fake sneezes? Yet it provoked an equally puzzling converse question: Why are identical twins different? Because, you might answer, fate impinges differently on their bodies. One twin falls down the crumbling stairs of her Calcutta house and breaks her ankle; the other scalds her thigh on a tipped cup of coffee in a European station. Each acquires the wounds, calluses, and memories of chance and fate. But how are these changes recorded, so that they persist over the years? We know that the genome can manufacture identity; the trickier question is how it gives rise to difference.

….. more

But what turns those genes on and off, and keeps them turned on or off? Why doesn’t a liver cell wake up one morning and find itself transformed into a neuron? Allis unpacked the problem further: suppose he could find an organism with two distinct sets of genes—an active set and an inactive set—between which it regularly toggled. If he could identify the molecular switches that maintain one state, or toggle between the two states, he might be able to identify the mechanism responsible for cellular memory. “What I really needed, then, was a cell with these properties,” he recalled when we spoke at his office a few weeks ago. “Two sets of genes, turned ‘on’ or ‘off’ by some signal.”


“Histones had been known as part of the inner scaffold for DNA for decades,” Allis went on. “But most biologists thought of these proteins merely as packaging, or stuffing, for genes.” When Allis gave scientific seminars in the early nineties, he recalled, skeptics asked him why he was so obsessed with the packing material, the stuff in between the DNA.  …. A skein of silk tangled into a ball has very different properties from that same skein extended; might the coiling or uncoiling of DNA change the activity of genes?

In 1996, Allis and his research group deepened this theory with a seminal discovery. “We became interested in the process of histone modification,” he said. “What is the signal that changes the structure of the histone so that DNA can be packed into such radically different states? We finally found a protein that makes a specific chemical change in the histone, possibly forcing the DNA coil to open. And when we studied the properties of this protein it became quite clear that it was also changing the activity of genes.” The coils of DNA seemed to open and close in response to histone modifications—inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, like life.

Allis walked me to his lab, a fluorescent-lit space overlooking the East River, divided by wide, polished-stone benches. A mechanical stirrer, whirring in a corner, clinked on the edge of a glass beaker. “Two features of histone modifications are notable,” Allis said. “First, changing histones can change the activity of a gene without affecting the sequence of the DNA.” It is, in short, formally epi-genetic, just as Waddington had imagined. “And, second, the histone modifications are passed from a parent cell to its daughter cells when cells divide. A cell can thus record ‘memory,’ and not just for itself but for all its daughter cells.”




The New Yorker screws up big time with science: researchers criticize the Mukherjee piece on epigenetics

Jerry Coyne

Abstract: This is a two part-post about a science piece on gene regulation that just appeared in the New Yorker. Today I give quotes from scientists criticizing that piece; tomorrow I’ll present a semi-formal critique of the piece by two experts in the field.

esterday I gave readers an assignment: read the new New Yorkerpiece by Siddhartha Mukherjee about epigenetics. The piece, called “Same but different” (subtitle: “How epigenetics can blur the line between nature and nurture”) was brought to my attention by two readers, both of whom praised it.  Mukherjee, a physician, is well known for writing the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book (2011) The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. (I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my list.)  Mukherjee has a new book that will be published in May: The Gene: An Intimate History. As I haven’t seen it, the New Yorker piece may be an excerpt from this book.

Everyone I know who has read The Emperor of All Maladies gives it high praise. I wish I could say the same for Mukherjee’s New Yorker piece. When I read it at the behest of the two readers, I found his analysis of gene regulation incomplete and superficial. Although I’m not an expert in that area, I knew that there was a lot of evidence that regulatory proteins called “transcription factors”, and not “epigenetic markers” (see discussion of this term tomorrow) or modified histones—the factors emphasized by Mukherjee—played hugely important roles in gene regulation. The speculations at the end of the piece about “Lamarckian evolution” via environmentally induced epigenetic changes in the genome were also unfounded, for we have no evidence for that kind of adaptive evolution. Mukherjee does, however, mention that lack of evidence, though I wish he’d done so more strongly given that environmental modification of DNA bases is constantly touted as an important and neglected factor in evolution.

Unbeknownst to me, there was a bit of a kerfuffle going on in the community of scientists who study gene regulation, with many of them finding serious mistakes and omissions in Mukherjee’s piece.  There appears to have been some back-and-forth emailing among them, and several wrote letters to the New Yorker, urging them to correct the misconceptions, omissions, and scientific errors in “Same but different.” As I understand it, both Mukherjee and the New Yorker simply batted these criticisms away, and, as far as I know, will not publish any corrections.  So today and tomorrow I’ll present the criticisms here, just so they’ll be on the record.

Because Mukherjee writes very well, and because even educated laypeople won’t know the story of gene regulation revealed over the last few decades,  they may not see the big lacunae in his piece. It is, then,  important to set matters straight, for at least we should know what science has told us about how genes are turned on and off. The criticism of Mukherjee’s piece, coming from scientists who really are experts in gene regulation, shows a lack of care on the part of Mukherjee and theNew Yorker: both a superficial and misleading treatment of the state of the science, and a failure of the magazine to properly vet this piece (I have no idea whether they had it “refereed” not just by editors but by scientists not mentioned in the piece).

Let me add one thing about science and the New Yorker. I believe I’ve said this before, but the way the New Yorker treats science is symptomatic of the “two cultures” problem. This is summarized in an email sent me a while back by a colleague, which I quote with permission:

The New Yorker is fine with science that either serves a literary purpose (doctors’ portraits of interesting patients) or a political purpose (environmental writing with its implicit critique of modern technology and capitalism). But the subtext of most of its coverage (there are exceptions) is that scientists are just a self-interested tribe with their own narrative and no claim to finding the truth, and that science must concede the supremacy of literary culture when it comes to anything human, and never try to submit human affairs to quantification or consilience with biology. Because the magazine is undoubtedly sophisticated in its writing and editing they don’t flaunt their postmodernism or their literary-intellectual proprietariness, but once you notice it you can make sense of a lot of their material.

. . . Obviously there are exceptions – Atul Gawande is consistently superb – but as soon as you notice it, their guild war on behalf of cultural critics and literary intellectuals against scientists, technologists, and analytic scholars becomes apparent.

…. more

Researchers criticize the Mukherjee piece on epigenetics: Part 2

Trigger warning: Long science post!

Yesterday I provided a bunch of scientists’ reactions—and these were big names in the field of gene regulation—to Siddhartha Mukherjee’s ill-informed piece in The New Yorker, “Same but different” (subtitle: “How epigenetics can blur the line between nature and nurture”). Today, in part 2, I provide a sentence-by-sentence analysis and reaction by two renowned researchers in that area. We’ll start with a set of definitions (provided by the authors) that we need to understand the debate, and then proceed to the critique.

Let me add one thing to avoid confusion: everything below the line, including the definition (except for my one comment at the end) was written by Ptashne and Greally.

by Mark Ptashne and John Greally


Ptashne is The Ludwig Professor of Molecular Biology at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He wrote A Genetic Switch, now in its third edition, which describes the principles of gene regulation and the workings of a ‘switch’; and, with Alex Gann, Genes and Signals, which extends these principles and ideas to higher organisms and to other cellular processes as well.  John Greally is the Director of the Center for Epigenomics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.


The New Yorker  (May 2, 2016) published an article entitled “Same But Different” written by Siddhartha Mukherjee.  As readers will have gathered from the letters posted yesterday, there is a concern that the article is misleading, especially for a non-scientific audience. The issue concerns our current understanding of “gene regulation” and how that understanding has been arrived at.

First some definitions/concepts:

Gene regulation refers to the “turning on and off of genes”.  The primary event in turning a gene “on” is to transcribe (copy) it into messenger RNA (mRNA). That mRNA is then decoded, usually, into a specific protein.  Genes are transcribed by the enzyme called RNA polymerase.

Development:  the process in which a fertilized egg (e.g., a human egg) divides many times and eventually forms an organism.  During this process, many of the roughly 23,000 genes of a human are turned “on” or “off” in different combinations, at different times and places in the developing organism. The process produces many different cell types in different organs (e.g. liver and brain), but all retain the original set of genes.

Transcription factors: proteins that bind to specific DNA sequences near specific genes and turn transcription of those genes on and off. A transcriptional ‘activator’, for example, bears two surfaces: one binds a specific sequence in DNA, and the other binds to, and thereby recruits to the gene, protein complexes that include RNA polymerase. It is widely acknowledged that the identity of a cell in the body depends on the array of transcription factors present in the cell, and the cell’s history.  RNA molecules can also recognize specific genomic sequences, and they too sometimes work as regulators.  Neither transcription factors nor these kinds of RNA molecules – the fundamental regulators of gene expression and development – are mentioned in the New Yorker article.

Signals:  these come in many forms (small molecules like estrogen, larger molecules (often proteins such as cytokines) that determine the ability of transcription factors to work.  For example, estrogen binds directly to a transcription factor (the estrogen receptor) and, by changing its shape, permits it to bind DNA and activate transcription.

Memory”:  a dividing cell can (often does) produce daughters that are identical, and that express identical genes as does the mother cell.  This occurs because the transcription factors present in the mother cell are passively transmitted to the daughters as the cell divides, and they go to work in their new contexts as before.  To make two different daughters, the cell must distribute its transcription factors asymmetrically.

Positive Feedback: An activator can maintain its own expression by  positive feedback.  This requires, simply, that a copy of the DNA sequence to which the activator binds is  present  near its own gene. Expression of the activator  then becomes self-perpetuating.  The activator (of which there now are many copies in the cell) activates  other target genes as it maintains its own expression. This kind of ‘memory circuit’, first described  in  bacteria, is found in higher organisms as well.  Positive feedback can explain how a fully differentiated cell (that is, a cell that has reached its developmental endpoint) maintains its identity.

Nucleosomes:  DNA in higher organisms (eukaryotes) is wrapped, like beads on a string, around certain proteins (called histones), to form nucleosomes.  The histones are subject to enzymatic modifications: e.g., acetyl, methyl, phosphate, etc. groups can be added to these structures. In bacteria there are no nucleosomes, and the DNA is more or less ‘naked’.

“Epigenetic modifications: please don’t worry about the word ”epigenetic”; it is misused in any case. What Mukherjee refers to by this term are the histone modifications mentioned above, and a modification to DNA itself: the addition of methyl groups. Keep in mind that the organisms that have taught us the most about development – flies (Drosophila) and worms (C. elegans)—do not have the enzymes required for DNA methylation. That does not mean that DNA methylation cannot do interesting things in humans, for example, but it is obviously not at the heart of gene regulation.

Specificity Development requires the highly specific sequential turning on and off of sets of genes.  Transcription factors and RNA supply this specificity, but   enzymes that impart modifications to histones  cannot: every nucleosome (and hence every gene) appears the same to the enzyme.  Thus such enzymes cannot pick out particular nucleosomes associated with particular genes to modify.  Histone modifications might be imagined to convey ‘memory’ as cells divide – but there are no convincing indications that this happens, nor are there molecular models that might explain why they would have the imputed effects.

Analysis and critique of Mukherjee’s article

The picture we have just sketched has taken the combined efforts of many scientists over 50 years to develop.  So what, then, is the problem with the New Yorker article?

There are two: first, the picture we have just sketched, emphasizing the primary role of transcription factors and RNA, is absent.  Second, that picture is replaced by highly dubious speculations, some of which don’t make sense, and none of which has been shown to work as imagined in the article.

(Quotes from the Mukherjee article are indented and in plain text; they are followed by comments, flush left and in bold, by Ptashne and Greally.)

In 1978, having obtained a Ph.D. in biology at Indiana University, Allis began to tackle a problem that had long troubled geneticists and cell biologists: if all the cells in the body have the same genome, how does one become a nerve cell, say, and another a blood cell, which looks and functions very differently?

The problems referred to were recognized long before 1978.  In fact, these were exactly the problems that the great French scientists François Jacob and Jacques Monod took on in the 1950s-60s.  In a series of brilliant experiments, Jacob and Monod showed that in bacteria, certain genes encode products that regulate (turn on and off) specific other genes.  Those regulatory molecules turned out to be proteins, some of which respond to signals from the environment.  Much of the story of modern biology has been figuring out how these proteins – in bacteria and in higher organisms  – bind to and regulate specific genes.  Of note is that in higher organisms, the regulatory proteins look and act like those in bacteria, despite the fact that eukaryotic DNA is wrapped in nucleosomes  whereas bacterial DNA is not.   We have also learned that certain RNA molecules can play a regulatory role, a phenomenon made possible by the fact that RNA molecules, like regulatory proteins, can recognize specific genomic sequences.

In the nineteen-forties, Conrad Waddington, an English embryologist, had proposed an ingenious answer: cells acquired their identities just as humans do—by letting nurture (environmental signals) modify nature (genes). For that to happen, Waddington concluded, an additional layer of information must exist within a cell—a layer that hovered, ghostlike, above the genome. This layer would carry the “memory” of the cell, recording its past and establishing its future, marking its identity and its destiny but permitting that identity to be changed, if needed. He termed the phenomenon “epigenetics”—“above genetics.”

This description greatly misrepresents the original concept.  Waddington argued that development proceeds not by the loss (or gain) of genes, which would be a “genetic” process, but rather that some genes would be selectively expressed in specific and complex cellular patterns as development proceeds.  He referred to this intersection of embryology (then called “epigenesis”) and genetics as “epigenetic”.We now understand that regulatory proteins work in combinations to turn on and off genes, including their own genes, and that sometimes the regulatory proteins respond to signals sent by other cells.  It should be emphasized that Waddington never proposed any “ghost-like” layer of additional information hovering above the gene.  This is a later misinterpretation of a literal translation of the term epigenetics, with “epi-“ meaning “above/upon” the genetic information encoded in DNA sequence.  Unfortunately, this new and pervasive definition encompasses all of transcriptional regulation and is of no practical value.


By 2000, Allis and his colleagues around the world had identified a gamut of proteins that could modify histones, and so modulate the activity of genes. Other systems, too, that could scratch different kinds of code on the genome were identified (some of these discoveries predating the identification of histone modifications). One involved the addition of a chemical side chain, called a methyl group, to DNA. The methyl groups hang off the DNA string like Christmas ornaments, and specific proteins add and remove the ornaments, in effect “decorating” the genome. The most heavily methylated parts of the genome tend to be dampened in their activity.

It is true that enzymes that modify histones have been found—lots of them.  A striking problem is that, after all this time, it is not at all clear what the vast majority of these modifications do.  When these enzymatic activities are eliminated by mutation of their active sites (a task substantially easier to accomplish in yeast than in higher organisms) they mostly have little or no effect on transcription.  It is not even clear that histones are the biologically relevant substrates of most of these enzymes.  

 In the ensuing decade, Allis wrote enormous, magisterial papers in which a rich cast of histone-modifying proteins appear and reappear through various roles, mapping out a hatchwork of complexity. . . These protein systems, overlaying information on the genome, interacted with one another, reinforcing or attenuating their signals. Together, they generated the bewildering intricacy necessary for a cell to build a constellation of other cells out of the same genes, and for the cells to add “memories” to their genomes and transmit these memories to their progeny. “There’s an epigenetic code, just like there’s a genetic code,” Allis said. “There are codes to make parts of the genome more active, and codes to make them inactive.”

By ‘epigenetic code’ the author seems to mean specific arrays of nucleosome modifications, imparted over time and cell divisions, marking genes for expression.  This idea has been tested in many experiments and has been found not to hold.

….. and more


Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

I hope that this piece brings greater clarity to the discussion.  I have heard the use of the term “epigenetics” for over a decade.  The term was never so clear.  I think that the New Yorker article was a reasonable article for the intended audience.  It was not intended to clarify debates about a mechanism for epigenetic based changes in evolutionary science.  I think it actually punctures the “classic model” of the cell depending only on double stranded DNA and transcription, which deflates our concept of the living cell.  The concept of epigenetics was never really formulated as far as I have seen, and I have done serious work in enzymology and proteins at a time that we did not have the technology that exists today.  I have considered with the critics that protein folding, protein misfolding, protein interactions with proximity of polar and nonpolar groups, and the regulatory role of microRNAs that are not involved in translation, and the evolving concept of what is “dark (noncoding) DNA” lend credence to the complexity of this discussion.  Even more interesting is the fact that enzymes (and isoforms of enzymes) have a huge role in cellular metabolic differences and in the function of metabolic pathways.  What is less understood is the extremely fast reactions involved in these cellular reactions.  These reactions are in my view critical drivers.  This is brought out by Erwin Schroedinger in the book What is Life? which infers that there can be no mathematical expression of life processes.





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New Insights into mtDNA, mitochondrial proteins, aging, and metabolic control

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Newly discovered proteins may protect against age-related illnesses  

The proteins could play a key role in the aging process and the onset of diseases linked to older age

BY Beth Newcomb   APRIL 13, 2016×549.jpg

Pinchas Cohen led a team that identified tiny proteins that appear to play a role in controlling how the body ages. (Photo/Beth Newcomb)

A group of six newly discovered proteins may help to divulge secrets of how we age, potentially unlocking insights into diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer and other aging-related diseases.

The tiny proteins appear to play several big roles in our bodies’ cells, from decreasing the amount of damaging free radicals and controlling the rate at which cells die to boosting metabolism and helping tissues throughout the body respond better to insulin. The naturally occurring amounts of each protein decrease with age, leading researchers to believe that they play an important role in the aging process and the onset of diseases linked to older age.

The research team led by Pinchas Cohen, dean of the USC Davis School of Gerontology, identified the tiny proteins for the first time and observed their surprising origin from organelles in the cell called mitochondria and their game-changing roles in metabolism and cell survival. This latest finding builds upon prior research by Cohen and his team that uncovered two significant proteins, humanin and MOTS-c, hormones that appear to have significant roles in metabolism and diseases of aging.

Unlike most other proteins, humanin and MOTS-c are encoded in mitochondria, the structure within cells that produces energy from food, instead of in the cell’s nucleus where most genes are contained.

Key functions

Mitochondria have their own small collection of genes, which were once thought to play only minor roles within cells but now appear to have important functions throughout the body. Cohen’s team used computer analysis to see if the part of the mitochondrial genome that provides the code for humanin was coding for other proteins as well. The analysis uncovered the genes for six new proteins, which were dubbed small humanin-like peptides, or SHLPs, 1 through 6 (the name of this hardworking group of proteins is appropriately pronounced “schlep”).

After identifying the six SHLPs and successfully developing antibodies to test for several of them, the team examined both mouse tissues and human cells to determine their abundance in different organs as well as their functions. The proteins were distributed quite differently among organs, which suggests that the proteins have varying functions based on where they are in the body.

Of particular interest is SHLP 2, Cohen said. The protein appears to have profound insulin-sensitizing, anti-diabetic effects as well as potent neuro-protective activity that may emerge as a strategy to combat Alzheimer’s disease. He added that SHLP 6 is also intriguing, with a unique ability to promote cancer cell death and thus potentially target malignant diseases.

“Together with the previously identified mitochondrial peptides, the newly recognized SHLP family expands the understanding of the mitochondria as an intracellular signaling organelle that communicates with the rest of the body to regulate metabolism and cell fate,” Cohen said. “The findings are an important advance that will be ripe for rapid translation into drug development for diseases of aging.”

The study first appeared online in the journal Aging on April 10. Cohen’s research team included collaborators from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine; the findings have been licensed to the biotechnology company CohBar for possible drug development.

The research was supported by a Glenn Foundation Award and National Institutes of Health grants to Cohen (1P01AG034906, 1R01AG 034430, 1R01GM 090311, 1R01ES 020812) and an Ellison/AFAR postdoctoral fellowship to Kelvin Yen. Study authors Laura Cobb, Changhan Lee, Nir Barzilai and Pinchas Cohen are consultants and stockholders of CohBar Inc.

Feature: The man who wants to beat back aging

By Stephen S. Hall Sep. 16, 201

Nir Barzilai hopes to persuade FDA to bless the proposed anti-aging trial, which is unconventional in its goals and design.

On a blazingly hot morning this past June, a half-dozen scientists convened in a hotel conference room in suburban Maryland for the dress rehearsal of what they saw as a landmark event in the history of aging research. In a few hours, the group would meet with officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a few kilometers away, to pitch an unprecedented clinical trial—nothing less than the first test of a drug to specifically target the process of human aging.

“We think this is a groundbreaking, perhaps paradigm-shifting trial,” said Steven Austad, chairman of biology at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and scientific director of the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR). After Austad’s brief introductory remarks, a scientist named Nir Barzilai tuned up his PowerPoint and launched into a practice run of the main presentation.

Barzilai is a former Israeli army medical officer and head of a well-known study of centenarians based at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York. To anyone who has seen the ebullient scientist in his natural laboratory habitat, often in a short-sleeved shirt and always cracking jokes, he looked uncharacteristically kempt in a blue blazer and dress khakis. But his practice run kept hitting a historical speed bump. He had barely begun to explain the rationale for the trial when he mentioned, in passing, “lots of unproven, untested treatments under the category of anti-aging.” His colleagues pounced.

“Nir,” interrupted S. Jay Olshansky, a biodemographer of aging from the University of Illinois, Chicago. The phrase “anti-aging … has an association that is negative.”

“I wouldn’t dignify them by calling them ‘treatments,’” added Michael Pollak, director of cancer prevention at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. “They’re products.”

Barzilai, a 59-year-old with a boyish mop of gray hair, wore a contrite grin. “We know the FDA is concerned about this,” he conceded, and deleted the offensive phrase.

Then he proceeded to lay out the details of an ambitious clinical trial. The group—academics all—wanted to conduct a double-blind study of roughly 3000 elderly people; half would get a placebo and half would get an old (indeed, ancient) drug for type 2 diabetes called metformin, which has been shown to modify aging in some animal studies. Because there is still no accepted biomarker for aging, the drug’s success would be judged by an unusual standard—whether it could delay the development of several diseases whose incidence increases dramatically with age: cardiovascular disease, cancer, and cognitive decline, along with mortality. When it comes to these diseases, Barzilai is fond of saying, “aging is a bigger risk factor than all of the other factors combined.”

But the phrase “anti-aging” kept creeping into the rehearsal, and critics kept jumping in. “Okay,” Barzilai said with a laugh when it came up again. “Third time, the death penalty.”

The group’s paranoia about the term “anti-aging” captured both the audacity of the proposed trial and the cultural challenge of venturing into medical territory historically associated with charlatans and quacks. The metformin initiative, which Barzilai is generally credited with spearheading, is unusual by almost any standard of drug development. The people pushing for the trial are all academics, none from industry (although Barzilai is co-founder of a biotech company, CohBar Inc., that is working to develop drugs targeting age-related diseases). The trial would be sponsored by the nonprofit AFAR, not a pharmaceutical company. No one stood to make money if the drug worked, the scientists all claimed; indeed, metformin is not only generic, costing just a few cents a dose, but belongs to a class of drugs that has been part of the human apothecary for 500 years. Patient safety was unlikely to be an issue; millions of diabetics have taken metformin since the 1960s, and its generally mild side effects are well-known.

Finally, the metformin group insisted they didn’t need a cent of federal money to proceed (although they do intend to ask for some). Nor did they need formal approval from FDA to proceed. But they very much wanted the agency’s blessing. By recognizing the merit of such a trial, Barzilai believes,  FDA would make aging itself a legitimate target for drug development.

By the time the scientists were done, the rehearsal—which was being filmed for a television documentary—had the feel of a pep rally. They spoke with unguarded optimism. “What we’re talking about here,” Olshansky said, “is a fundamental sea change in how we look at aging and disease.” To Austad, it is “the key, potentially, to saving the health care system.”

As the group piled into a van for the drive to FDA headquarters, there was more talk about setting precedents and opening doors. So it was a little disconcerting when Austad led the delegation up to the main entrance of FDA—and couldn’t get the door open.   ……

Mitochondrial Peptides Found in a Preclinical Study Seen to Control Cell Metabolism



CohBar, a developer of mitochondria-based therapeutics, announced that preclinical research by its academic collaborators has found small humanin-like peptides (SHLPs) that can control metabolism and cell survival. The findings have implications for age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.

The study, “Naturally Occurring Mitochondrial-derived Peptides are Age-dependent Regulators of Apoptosis, Insulin Sensitivity, and Inflammatory Markers,” was the result of a joint effort between researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) and theInstitute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. The study was published in the journal Aging.

Researchers discovered the SHLPs by examining the genome of mitochondria with the help of a bioinformatics approach, which identified six peptides. The team then verified the presence of the factors and explored their function in laboratory animals.

CohBar, who have the exclusive license to develop SHLPs into therapeutics, works closely with its academic partners to explore the peptides in preclinical models.

While it was previously believed that mitochondria only have 37 genes, research has revealed that the mitochondrial genome is far more versatile, potentially harboring a multitude of new genes, which can encode peptides acting as cellular signaling factors. The peptides, it has turned out, have shown neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects, and act to protect cells in disease-modifying ways in preclinical models of aging.

CohBar’s goal is to bring these peptides to the market as therapies for age-related diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, atherosclerosis and neurodegenerative disorders.

“Together with the previously described mitochondrial-derived peptides humanin and MOTS-c, the SHLP family expands our understanding of the role that these peptides play in intracellular signaling throughout the body to regulate both metabolism and cell survival,” Pinchas Cohen, dean of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, founder and director of CohBar, and the study’s senior author, said in a press release. “These findings further illustrate the enormous potential that mitochondria-based therapeutics could have on treating age-associated diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer.”

“The pre-clinical evidence continues to confirm that these peptides represent a new class of naturally occurring metabolic regulators,” added Simon Allen, CohBar’s CEO. “They form the foundation of our pipeline of first-in-class treatments for age-related diseases, and we are committed to rapidly advancing them through pre-clinical and clinical activities as we move forward.”

Naturally occurring mitochondrial-derived peptides are age-dependent regulators of apoptosis, insulin sensitivity, and inflammatory markers

Laura J. Cobb1,5, Changhan Lee2, Jialin Xiao2, Kelvin Yen2, Richard G. Wong2, Hiromi K. Nakamura1, ….., Derek M. Huffman4, Junxiang Wan2, Radhika Muzumdar3, Nir Barzilai4 , and Pinchas Cohen2

Mitochondria are key players in aging and in the pathogenesis of age-related diseases. Recent mitochondrial transcriptome analyses revealed the existence of multiple small mRNAs transcribed from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Humanin (HN), a peptide encoded in the mtDNA 16S ribosomal RNA region, is a neuroprotective factor. An in silico search revealed six additional peptides in the same region of mtDNA as humanin; we named these peptides small humanin-like peptides (SHLPs). We identified the functional roles for these peptides and the potential mechanisms of action. The SHLPs differed in their ability to regulate cell viability in vitro. We focused on SHLP2 and SHLP3 because they shared similar protective effects with HN. Specifically, they significantly reduced apoptosis and the generation of reactive oxygen species, and improved mitochondrial metabolism in vitro. SHLP2 and SHLP3 also enhanced 3T3-L1 pre-adipocyte differentiation. Systemic hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp studies showed that intracerebrally infused SHLP2 increased glucose uptake and suppressed hepatic glucose production, suggesting that it functions as an insulin sensitizer both peripherally and centrally. Similar to HN, the levels of circulating SHLP2 were found to decrease with age. These results suggest that mitochondria play critical roles in metabolism and survival through the synthesis of mitochondrial peptides, and provide new insights into mitochondrial biology with relevance to aging and human biology.

Human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is a double-stranded, circular molecule of 16,569 bp and contains 37 genes encoding 13 proteins, 22 tRNAs, and 2 rRNAs. Recent mitochondrial transcriptome analyses revealed the existence of small RNAs derived from mtDNA [1]. In 2001, Nishimoto and colleagues identified humanin (HN), a 24-amino-acid peptide encoded from the 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) region of mtDNA. HN is a potent neuroprotective factor capable of antagonizing Alzheimer’s disease (AD)-related cellular insults [2]. HN is a component of a novel retrograde signaling pathway from the mitochondria to the nucleus, which is distinct from mitochondrial signaling pathways, such as the SIRT4-AMPK pathway [3]. HN-dependent cellular protection is mediated in part by interacting with and antagonizing pro-apoptotic Bax-related peptides [4] and IGFBP-3 (IGF binding protein 3) [5].

Because of their involvement in energy production and free radical generation, mitochondria likely play a major role in aging and age-related diseases [68]. In fact, improvement of mitochondrial function has been shown to ameliorate age-related memory loss in aged mice [9]. Recent studies have shown that HN levels decrease with age, suggesting that HN could play a role in aging and age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), atherosclerosis, and diabetes. Along with lower HN levels in the hypothalamus, skeletal muscle, and cortex of older rodents, the circulating levels of HN were found to decline with age in both humans and mice [10]. Notably, circulating HN levels were found to be (i) significantly higher in long-lived Ames dwarf mice but lower in short-lived growth hormone (GH) transgenic mice, (ii) significantly higher in a GH-deficient cohort of patients with Laron syndrome, and (iii) reduced in mice and humans treated with GH or IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) [11]. Age-dependent declines in the circulating HN levels may be due to higher levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that contribute to atherosclerosis development. Using mouse models of atherosclerosis, it was found that HN-treated mice had a reduced disease burden and significant health improvements [12,13]. In addition, HN improved insulin sensitivity, suggesting clinical potential for mitochondrial peptides in diseases of aging [10]. The discovery of HN represents a unique addition to the spectrum of roles that mitochondria play in the cell [14,15]. A second mitochondrial-derived peptide (MDP), MOTS-c (mitochondrial open reading frame of the 12S rRNA-c), has also been shown to have metabolic effects on muscle and may also play a role in aging [16].

We further investigated mtDNA for the presence of other MDPs. Recent technological advances have led to the identification of small open reading frames (sORFs) in the nuclear genomes ofDrosophila[17,18] and mammals [19,20]. Therefore, we attempted to identify novel sORFs using the following approaches: 1) in silico identification of potential sORFs; 2) determination of mRNA expression levels; 3) development of specific antibodies against these novel peptides to allow for peptide detection in cells, organs, and plasma; 4) elucidating the actions of these peptides by performing cell-based assays for mitochondrial function, signaling, viability, and differentiation; and 5) delivering these peptides in vivo to determine their systemic metabolic effects. Focusing on the 16S rRNA region of the mtDNA where the humanin gene is located, we identified six sORFs and named them small humanin-like peptides (SHLPs) 1-6. While surveying the biological effects of SHLPs, we found that SHLP2 and SHLP3 were cytoprotective; therefore, we investigated their effects on apoptosis and metabolism in greater detail. Further, we showed that circulating SHLP2 levels declined with age, similar to HN, suggesting that SHLP2 is involved in aging and age-related disease progression.

SHLP2 and SHLP3 regulate the expression of metabolic and inflammatory markers

Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that increased levels of mediators of inflammation and acute-phase reactants, such as fibrinogen, C-reactive protein (CRP), and IL-6, correlate with the incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) [3436]. In humans, anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and sodium salicylate, reduce fasting plasma glucose levels and ameliorate the symptoms of T2DM. In addition, anti-diabetic drugs, such as fibrates [37] and thiazolidinediones [38], have been found to lower some markers of inflammation. SHLP2 increased the levels of leptin, which is known to improve insulin sensitivity, but had no effect on the levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and MCP-1. SHLP3 significantly increased the leptin levels, but also elevated IL-6 and MCP-1 levels, which could explain the lack of an in vivo insulin-sensitizing effect of SHLP3. The mechanism by which SHLPs regulate the expression of metabolic and inflammatory markers remains unclear and needs to be further investigated. Furthermore, SHLPs have different effects on inflammatory marker expression, suggesting differential regulation and function of individual SHLPs.

SHLP2 in aging

Mitochondria have been implicated in increased lifespan in several life-extending treatments [39,40]; however, it is not known whether the relationship is correlative or causative [40]. Additionally, it is well known that hormone levels change with aging. For example, levels of aldosterone, calcitonin, growth hormone, and IGF-I decrease with age. Circulating HN levels decline with age in humans and rodents, specifically in the hypothalamus and skeletal muscle of older rats. These changes parallel increases in the incidence of age-associated diseases such as AD and T2DM. The decline in circulating SHLP2 levels with age (Fig. 6), the anti-oxidative stress function of SHLP2 (Fig. 3C), and its neuroprotective effect (Fig. 6B) indicate that SHLP2 has a role in the regulation of aging and age-related diseases.


By analyzing the mitochondrial transcriptome, we found that sORFs from mitochondrial DNA encode functional peptides. We identified many mRNA transcripts within 13 protein-coding mitochondrial genes [1]. Such previously underappreciated sORFs have also been described in the nuclear genome [41]. The MDPs we describe here may represent retrograde communication signals from the mitochondria to the nucleus and may explain important aspects of mitochondrial biology that are implicated in health and longevity.

Larry, John Walker is working on mt proteins dynamics. His rotor – stator mechanism in ATPase synthase, a ‘complex’ that biologist accepted as energy generator is likely wrong. I was suppose to have met him in Germany few years ago. Energy in biological systems has nothing to do with heat. Heat is an outcome of a reaction, meaning that IR spectra accordingly to wave theory is a source of information memorized in water interference with carbon open systems within protein and glyo-proteins complexes as well as genome space-time outcomes. Physically speaking from a pure perspective of science ATP is highly unstable form of phosphate ‘chains’. It cannot hold energy, it is actually in contrary, it is like a resonator, trapping negativity, thus functioning as space propeller by expanding carbon skeleton of protein ‘machines’ Now, we don’t know what is ‘aging’ in a pure physical sense, except that we observe structural changes in what we call complexes. We we know is that proteins are not stationary structures, but highly dynamic forms of matter, seemingly occupying discrete and relative spaces. A piece of mt ATP ase could be discovered in the nucleus as transcription factor. Our notion of operational space in terms of electro dynamics from a motor – stator perspective is now translated toward defining semi conducting and supracoductive strings. The reality of which is so much more fascinating and beautiful as time progresses overally. There are spaces where time does not change, and there are spaces where time walks, and there are spaces, where time flies, and there are spaces where time runs. Amazing, indeed! The story of aging gets a lot deeper that science could even imagine, probably to roots of immortal energy- spaces. We know that matter is transient, that is nearly all living matter, replenishes of about 3 to 7 weeks.

Take a glass full of some kind of liquid, you know the mass of the glass and the mass of the liquid (say wine, beer, water, or milk) You also know to an approximate reality the composition of both. Now lift the glass full of liquid and let it break on a surface of your choice. Depending on the surface pieces of the glass would travel differential from a center projected by the vertical axis of your hand. What technology does today is recollecting those pieces and modelling them to fit in a form again that would resemble a holding device, a glass. The liquid we don’t know exactly how it spilled due the nature of its absorbancy of both surface physics and physical ‘state’ properties. Thus we can say how much approximate energy we have held thinking of m/z as time flight objectives. Each technology can read 1D and approximate the 2D, absolutely lacking computational methodology for 3D dynamic reality. Many scientists confuse space and volume. Volume is a one dimensional characteristic! So is crystalography! BY taking quantum chemical method computing principles following imaginative rules we could approach 2D, however , that is not enough to define 3D. Time we use as a reference frame of clocks we have invented in order to keep track of a sense to observable ‘change’ . But remember, time is absolute and parallel in continuity while energy is discrete , coming in quantum packages, realization of accumulated information. Information is highly redundant we see, so annotating information is an objective to modern days simulations that could predict outcomes of possible parallel realities we call worlds. One could ‘jump’ from one reality to another through guidance of light and water, but what remains unsolved is why people make mistakes, constantly by accusing in name of greed and power , or disobedience of commandments of the Lord!

On Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 3:41 AM, Leaders in Pharmaceutical Business Intelligence (LPBI) Group wrote:

> larryhbern posted: “New Insights into mtDNA, mitochondrial proteins, > aging, and metabolic control Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator LPBI > Newly discovered proteins may protect against age-related illnesses The > proteins could play a key role in the ” >


Metabolic features of the cell danger response
– Mitochondria in Health and Disease

Mitochondrion  Volume 16, May 2014, Pages 7–17     doi:10.1016/j.mito.2013.08.006



  •  The Cell Danger Response (CDR) is defined in terms of an ancient metabolic response to threat.
  •  The CDR encompasses inflammation, innate immunity, oxidative stress, and the ER stress response.
  •  The CDR is maintained by extracellular nucleotide (purinergic) signaling.
  •  Abnormal persistence of the CDR lies at the heart of many chronic diseases.
  •  Antipurinergic therapy (APT) has proven effective in many chronic disorders in animal models

The cell danger response (CDR) is the evolutionarily conserved metabolic response that protects cells and hosts from harm. It is triggered by encounters with chemical, physical, or biological threats that exceed the cellular capacity for homeostasis. The resulting metabolic mismatch between available resources and functional capacity produces a cascade of changes in cellular electron flow, oxygen consumption, redox, membrane fluidity, lipid dynamics, bioenergetics, carbon and sulfur resource allocation, protein folding and aggregation, vitamin availability, metal homeostasis, indole, pterin, 1-carbon and polyamine metabolism, and polymer formation. The first wave of danger signals consists of the release of metabolic intermediates like ATP and ADP, Krebs cycle intermediates, oxygen, and reactive oxygen species (ROS), and is sustained by purinergic signaling. After the danger has been eliminated or neutralized, a choreographed sequence of anti-inflammatory and regenerative pathways is activated to reverse the CDR and to heal. When the CDR persists abnormally, whole body metabolism and the gut microbiome are disturbed, the collective performance of multiple organ systems is impaired, behavior is changed, and chronic disease results. Metabolic memory of past stress encounters is stored in the form of altered mitochondrial and cellular macromolecule content, resulting in an increase in functional reserve capacity through a process known as mitocellular hormesis. The systemic form of the CDR, and its magnified form, the purinergic life-threat response (PLTR), are under direct control by ancient pathways in the brain that are ultimately coordinated by centers in the brainstem. Chemosensory integration of whole body metabolism occurs in the brainstem and is a prerequisite for normal brain, motor, vestibular, sensory, social, and speech development. An understanding of the CDR permits us to reframe old concepts of pathogenesis for a broad array of chronic, developmental, autoimmune, and degenerative disorders. These disorders include autism spectrum disorders (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, atopy, gluten and many other food and chemical sensitivity syndromes, emphysema, Tourette’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), traumatic brain injury (TBI), epilepsy, suicidal ideation, organ transplant biology, diabetes, kidney, liver, and heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer and Parkinson disease, and autoimmune disorders like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and primary sclerosing cholangitis.

The double face of mitochondrial dysfunction

Dmitry Knorre, Anna Zyrina, and Fedor Severin

pp 420-420

Full text | PDF



Flawed Mitochondrial DNA Could Undermine Stem Cell Therapies

This is a confocal microscopy image of human fibroblasts derived from embryonic stem cells. The nuclei appear in blue, while smaller and more numerous mitochondria appear in red. [Shoukhrat Mitalipov]

Mutations in our mitochondrial DNA tend to be inconspicuous, but they can become more prevalent as we age. They can even vary in frequency from cell to cell. Naturally, some cells will be relatively compromised because they happen to have a higher percentage of mutated mitochondrial DNA. Such cells make a poor basis for stem cell lines. They should be excluded. But how?

To answer this question, a team of scientists scrutinized skin fibroblasts, blood cells, and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) for mitochondrial genome integrity. When the scientists tested the samples for mitochondrial DNA mutations, the levels of mutations appeared low. But when the scientists sequenced the iPS cell lines, they found higher numbers of mitochondrial DNA mutations, particularly in cells from patients over 60.

The scientists were led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Ph.D., director of the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy at Oregon Health & Science University, and Taosheng Huang, M.D., a medical geneticist and director of the Mitochondrial Medicine Program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The Mitalipov/Huang-led team also found higher percentages of mitochondria containing mutations within a cell. The higher the load of mutated mitochondrial DNA in a cell, the more compromised the cell’s function.

Since each iPSC line is created from a different cell, each line may contain different types of mitochondrial DNA mutations and mutation loads. To choose the least damaged line, the authors recommend screening multiple lines per patient. “It’s a good idea to check the iPS clones for mitochondrial DNA mutations and make sure you pick a good cell line,” said Dr. Huang.

This recommendation appeared April 14 in the journal Cell Stem Cell, in an article entitled, “Age-Related Accumulation of Somatic Mitochondrial DNA Mutations in Adult-Derived Human iPSCs.” This article holds that mitochondrial genome integrity is a vital readout in assessing the proficiency of patient-derived regenerative products destined for clinical applications.

“We found that pooled skin and blood mtDNA contained low heteroplasmic point mutations, but a panel of ten individual iPSC lines from each tissue or clonally expanded fibroblasts carried an elevated load of heteroplasmic or homoplasmic mutations, suggesting that somatic mutations randomly arise within individual cells but are not detectable in whole tissues,” wrote the article’s authors. “The frequency of mtDNA defects in iPSCs increased with age, and many mutations were nonsynonymous or resided in RNA coding genes and thus can lead to respiratory defects.”

Potential therapies using stem cells hold tremendous promise for treating human disease. However, defects in the mitochondria could undermine the iPS cells’ ability to repair damaged tissue or organs.

“If you want to use iPS cells in a human, you must check for mutations in the mitochondrial genome,” declared Dr. Huang. “Every single cell can be different. Two cells next to each other could have different mutations or different percentages of mutations.”

Prior to the creation of a therapeutic iPS cell line, a collection of cells is taken from the patient. These cells will be tested for mutations. If the tester uses Sanger sequencing, older technology that is not as sensitive as newer next-generation sequencing, any mutation that occurs in less than 20% of the sample will go undetected. But mitochondrial DNA mutations might occur in less than 20% of mitochondria in the pooled cells. As a result, mutation rates have not been well understood. “These mitochondrial mutations are actually hidden,” explained Dr. Mitalipov.

The mitochondrial genome is relatively small, containing just 37 genes, so screening should be feasible using next generation sequencing, Dr. Mitalipov added. “It should be relatively cheap and do-able.”

Dr. Mitalipov also commented on a more general point, the implications of the current study on illuminating the mechanisms of age-related disease: “Pathogenic mutations in our mitochondrial DNA have long been thought to be a driving force in aging and age-onset diseases, though clear evidence was missing. This foundational knowledge of how cells are damaged in the natural process of aging may help to illuminate the role of mutated mitochondria in degenerative disease.”

New Mitalipov paper on stem cell mitochondria: challenge for IPS cell field?

A new paper from Shoukhrat Mitalipov’s lab on stem cell mitochondria points to a pattern whereby induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells tend to have more problems if they are from older patients.

What does this paper mean for the stem cell field and could it impact more specifically the clinical applications of IPS cells?

Graphical Abstract, Kang, et al. 2016

The new paper Kang, et al is entitled “Age-Related Accumulation of Somatic Mitochondrial DNA Mutations in Adult-Derived Human iPSCs”.

This paper reminds us of the very important realities that mitochondria are key players in stem cell function and that mitochondria have their own genomes that impact that function. A lot of us don’t think about mitochondria and their genome as often as we should.

The paper came to three major scientific conclusions (this from the Highlights section of the paper and also see the graphical abstract for a visual sense of the results overall):

  • Human iPSC clones derived from elderly adults show accumulation of mtDNA mutations
  • Fewer mtDNA mutations are present in ESCs and iPSCs derived from younger adults
  • Accumulated mtDNA mutations can impact metabolic function in iPSCs

Importantly the team looked at IPS cells derived from both blood and skin cells and found that the former were less likely to have mitochondrial mutations.

This study suggests that those teams producing or working with human IPS cells (hIPSCs) should be screening the different lines for mitochondrial mutations. This excellent piece from Sara Reardon on the Mitalipov paper quotes IPS cell expert Jeanne Loring on this very point:

“It’s one of those things most of us don’t think about,” says Jeanne Loring, a stem-cell biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. Her lab is working towards using iPS cells to treat Parkinson’s disease, and Loring now plans to go back and examine the mitochondria in her cell lines. She suspects that it will be fairly easy for researchers to screen cells for use in therapies.”

Mitalipov goes further and suggests that his team’s new findings could support the use of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) derived by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) which would be expected to have mitochondria with fewer mutations. However, as Loring points out in the Reardon article, SCNT is really difficult to successfully perform and only a few labs in the world can do it at present. In that context, working with hIPSC and adding on the additional layer of mitochondrial DNA mutation screening could be more practical.

New York stem cell researcher Dieter Egli, however, is quoted that hIPSC have other differences with hESC as well such as epigenetic differences and he’s quoted in the Reardon piece, “It’s going to be very hard to find a cell line that’s perfect.”

One might reasonably ask both Egli and oneself, “What is a perfect cell line”?

In the end the best approach for use of human pluripotent stem cells of any kind is going to involve a balance between practicality of production and the potentially positive or negative traits of those cells as determined by rigorous validation screening.

With this new paper we’ve just learned more about another layer of screening that is needed. An interesting question is whether adult stem cells such as mesenchymal stromal/stem cells (MSC) also should be screened for mitochondrial mutations. They are often produced from patients who are getting up there in years. I hope that someone will publish on that too.

As to pluripotent cells, I expect that sometimes the best lines, meaning those most perfect for a given clinical application, will be hIPSC (autologous or allogeneic in some instances) and in other cases they may be hESC made from leftover IVF embryos. If SCNT-derived hESC can be more widely produced in an affordable manner and they pass validation as well then those (sometimes called NT-hESC) may also come into play clinically. So far that hasn’t happened for the SCNT cells, but it may over time.   …..

 Age-Related Accumulation of Somatic Mitochondrial DNA Mutations in Adult-Derived Human iPSCs

Eunju Kang, Xinjian Wang, Rebecca Tippner-Hedges, …, Don P. Wolf, Taosheng Huang, Shoukhrat Mitalipov

In Brief Mitalipov, Huang, and colleagues show that human iPSCs derived from older adults carry more mitochondrial DNA mutations than those derived from younger individuals. Defects in metabolic function caused by mtDNA mutations suggest careful screening of hiPSC clones for mutational load before clinical application.


  1. Human iPSC clones derived from elderly adults show accumulation of mtDNA mutations
  2. Fewer mtDNA mutations are present in ESCs and iPSCs derived from younger adults
  3. Accumulated mtDNA mutations can impact metabolic function in iPSCs

Kang et al., 2016, Cell Stem Cell 18, 1–12 May 5, 2016 ª2016 Elsevier Inc.

The genetic integrity of iPSCs is an important consideration for therapeutic application. In this study, we examine the accumulation of somatic mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) mutations in skin fibroblasts, blood, and iPSCs derived from young and elderly subjects (24–72 years). We found that pooled skin and blood mtDNA contained low heteroplasmic point mutations, but a panel of ten individual iPSC lines from each tissue or clonally expanded fibroblasts carried an elevated load of heteroplasmic or homoplasmic mutations, suggesting that somatic mutations randomly arise within individual cells but are not detectable in whole tissues. The frequency of mtDNA defects in iPSCs increased with age, and many mutations were non-synonymous or resided in RNA coding genes and thus can lead to respiratory defects. Our results highlight a need to monitor mtDNA mutations in iPSCs, especially those generated from older patients, and to examine the metabolic status of iPSCs destined for clinical applications.

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) offer an unlimited source for autologous cell replacement therapies to treat age-associated degenerative diseases. Aging is generally characterized by increased DNA damage and genomic instability (Garinis et al., 2008; Lombard et al., 2005); thus, iPSCs derived from elderly subjects may harbor point mutations and larger genomic rearrangements. Indeed, iPSCs display increased chromosome aberrations (Mayshar et al., 2010), subchromosomal copy number variations (CNVs) (Abyzov et al., 2012; Laurent et al., 2011), and exome mutations (Johannesson et al., 2014), compared to natural embryonic stem cell (ESC) counterparts (Ma et al., 2014). The rate of mtDNA mutations is believed to be at least 10- to 20-fold higher than that observed in the nuclear genome (Wallace, 1994), and often both mutated and wild-type mtDNA (heteroplasmy) can coexist in the same cell (Rossignol et al., 2003). Large deletions are most frequently observed mtDNA abnormalities in aged post-mitotic tissues such as brain, heart, and muscle (Bender et al., 2006; Bua et al., 2006; Corral-Debrinski et al., 1992; Cortopassi et al., 1992; Mohamed et al., 2006) and have been implicated in aging and diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and diabetes (Larsson, 2010; Lin and Beal, 2006; Petersen et al., 2003; Wallace, 2005). In addition, mtDNA point mutations were reported in some tumors and replicating tissues (Chatterjee et al., 2006; Ju et al., 2014; Michikawa et al., 1999; Taylor et al., 2003). However, the extent of mtDNA defects in proliferating peripheral tissues commonly used for iPSC induction, such as skin and blood, is thought to be low and limited to common non-coding variants (Schon et al., 2012; Yao et al., 2015). Accumulation of mtDNA variants in these tissues with age was insignificant (Greaves et al., 2010; Hashizume et al., 2015). Several point mutations were identified in iPSCs generated from the newborn foreskin fibroblasts, although most of these variants were non-coding, common for the general population, and did not affect their metabolic activity (Prigione et al., 2011). Somatic mtDNA mutations may be under-reported secondary to the level of sample interrogation. …..

Figure 2. mtDNA Mutations in Skin Fibroblasts, Blood, and the iPSCs of a 72-YearOld B Subject (A) Sixteen mutations at low heteroplasmy levels were detected in the DNA of PF, while a panel of ten FiPSC lines carried nine mutations, including four that were homoplasmic. Gray rectangles define the mutations shared between PF and FiPSCs. (B) Venn diagram showing only one mutation in FiPSCs shared with PF. (C) All ten FiPSC lines carried between one and five high-heteroplasmy (>15%) mutations. (D) Mutation distribution in whole blood and BiPSCs was similar to that in PF and FiPSCs. Six mutations at low-heteroplasmy levels were observed in blood, while BiPSC lines displayed 21 mutations, including four over the 80% heteroplasmy level. (E) Venn diagram showing four mutations in BiPSCs shared with whole blood and the 17 novel variants. (F) Distribution of mutations in individual BiPSC lines. See also Figures S2 and S3; Table S1; Table S3, sheet 2; and Table S4, sheet 1   ….

Figure 4. Transmission and Distribution of Somatic mtDNA Mutations to iPSCs (A) A total of 112 mtDNA mutations were discovered in parental cells (PF, CF, and blood) from 11 subjects. Of these, 39 variants (35%) were found in corresponding 130 iPSC lines. Among non-transmitted, transmitted, and novel mutations in iPSCs, comparable percentages of variants (68%, 69%, and 79%, respectively) were coding mutations in protein, rRNA, or tRNA genes. This suggests that most pathogenic mutations do not affect iPSC induction. However, certain coding mutations including in ND3, ND4L, and 14 tRNA genes were not detected in iPSCs, suggesting possible pathogenicity. n, the number of mtDNA mutations. Blue font genes were detected in parental cells. (B–D) A total of 80 high heteroplasmic (>15%) variants were detected in the present study in 130 FiPSC or BiPSC lines from 11 subjects. (B) The majority of these variants (76%) were non-synonymous or frame-shift mutations in protein-coding genes or affected rRNA and tRNA genes. (C) More than half of the mutations (56%) were never reported in a database containing whole mtDNA sequences from 26,850 healthy subjects representing the general human population ( (D) Most mutations (90%) were never reported in a database containing sequences from healthy subjects with corresponding mtDNA haplotypes. freq., frequent. See also Figure S5 and Tables S3 and S4. ….


Mutations will accumulate over age in mitochondrial DNA, however the current study has the difficulty that the authors could not use patient-age-matched controls, in essence they could only compare induced pluripotent stem cells derived from different patients. This could confound the results but the result with higher frequency of mutation in mtDNA in cells reprogrammed from younger patients is interesting but might limit the ability of autologous regenerative therapy in older patients. However reprogramming, although the method not mentioned here although I am assuming by transfection with lentivirus is a rough procedure, involving multiple dedifferentiation steps. Therefore it is very understandable that cells obtained from elderly patients would respond less favorably to such a rough reprogramming regimen, especially if it produced a higher degree of ROS, which has been shown to alter mtDNA. This is why I feel it is more advantageous to obtain a stem cell population from fat cells and forgo the Oct4, htert, reprogramming with lentiviral vectors.


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Insight on Cell Senescence

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Granule exocytosis mediates immune surveillance of senescent cells

A Sagiv1 , A Biran1 , M Yon2,3, J Simon2,4, SW Lowe2,4 and V Krizhanovsky1,2
Oncogene (2013) 32, 1971–1977

Senescence is a stable cell cycle arrest program that contributes to tumor suppression, organismal aging and certain wound healing responses. During liver fibrosis, for example, hepatic stellate cells initially proliferate and secrete extracellular matrix components that produce fibrosis; however, these cells eventually senesce and are cleared by immune cells, including natural killer (NK) cells. Here, we examine how NK cells target senescent cells and assess the impact of this process on liver fibrosis. We show that granule exocytosis, but not death-receptor-mediated apoptosis, is required for NK-cell-mediated killing of senescent cells. This pathway bias is due to upregulation of the decoy death receptor, Dcr2, an established senescence marker that attenuates NK-mediated cell death. Accordingly, mice with defects in granule exocytosis accumulate senescent stellate cells and display more liver fibrosis in response to a fibrogenic agent. Our results thus provide new insights into the immune surveillance of senescent cells and reveal how granule exocytosis has a protective role against liver fibrosis. Oncogene (2013) 32, 1971–1977;


Senescence is accompanied by phenotypic and transcriptional changes that identify senescent cells in vitro and in vivo. For example, senescent cells display a large and flat morphology in vitro and upregulate a senescence-associated b-galactosidase (SA-b-gal).9 Senescent cells often display global changes in chromatin structure10 that are associated with downregulation of cell cycle genes and components of the extracellular matrix and upregulation of immune modulators and matrix degrading enzymes.4 Comparative analyses of gene expression data have produced some markers that appear specific for senescence,11 including the p15ink4b cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor and the decoy receptor 2 (Dcr2, formally TNFRSF10D). Although p15ink4b likely contributes to the senescence-associated cell cycle arrest,12 whether decoy receptors or some other senescence markers actively participate in the program remains unknown.

Senescence acts through a coordinated program involving cell autonomous and cell nonautonomous components.13 In a cell autonomous manner, the Rb and p53 tumor suppressor pathways act to produce the stable cell cycle arrest that is the hallmark of senescence.1 These proteins are activated by, or activate, cyclindependent kinase inhibitors, such as p15ink4b, p16ink4a and p21, which lead to stable suppression of E2F target genes.10,14 Secreted proteins, regulated at least partially by NF-kB, enhance cell cycle arrest and are largely responsible for mediating the impact of senescent cells on tissue biology.15–17 These factors can attract immune cells, including natural killer (NK) cells, triggering the recognition and ultimate clearance of the senescent cells from tumors or tissue.4,18 Such mechanisms may be necessary to prevent the long-term damage that might be produced by senescent cells, and to facilitate tissue repair and homeostasis.

The mechanisms whereby NK cells eliminate senescent cells from tissues are not known. NK cells rely on two independent mechanisms to eliminate a variety of external and internal threats, including tumor cells.19,20 The ligands on the surface of NK cells, TRAIL and FAS ligand (FasL) bind corresponding receptors on target cells leading to caspase activation and cell death—a process that can be exquisitely controlled though the expression of various positive and negative regulators.21,22 NK cells can also eliminate target cells through granule exocytosis, a process involving the production of perforin and granzyme (A, B) containing granules, which are secreted from the NK cell upon interaction with the target cell.21,23 Perforin is responsible for perforating the cell membrane and thus enabling granzyme release into the target cells where it can induce cell death by both caspase-dependent and independent pathways.24 B

Here, we set out to understand how NK cells eliminate senescent cells from tissues and the implications of such mechanisms on liver fibrosis. Our results indicate that the granule exocytosis, and not death-receptor-mediated apoptosis, is essential for the NK-mediated surveillance of the senescent cells and that disruption of this pathway leads to the accumulation of senescent cells in damaged livers and increased fibrosis. Our study thus provides the key biological and mechanistic insights into the immune surveillance of senescent cells.

Figure 1. NK cells preferentially recognize senescent cells in a wide range of target:effector cell ratios. Senescent or growing IMR-90 fibroblasts were co-incubated with YT cells for 12 h at the indicated ratios and cytotoxicity was determined. The graphs represent the average and the s.e. of triplicate measurements from at least three independent experiments. *Po0.005.

Figure 2. Caspases are dispensable for NK-mediated cell killing of senescent cells. Senescent or growing IMR-90 fibroblasts were incubated for 12 h with either 2 or 10 nM FasL (a). Caspase inhibitors Z-VAD-FMK or Z-IEDT-FMK were added at the concentration of 10 mM as indicated. Cytotoxicity was determined at the end of the coincubation period. Senescent or growing IMR-90 fibroblasts were coincubated with YT cells for 12 h in the presence of 10 mM of caspase inhibitors Z-VAD-FMK or Z-IEDT-FMK and then the cytotoxicity was determined (b). The graphs represent the average and the s.e. of triplicate measurements from at least three independent experiments. *Po0.05, ***Po0.001.

Figure 3. Granule exocytosis pathway is required for NK-cell-mediated killing of senescent cells. Senescent and growing IMR-90 fibroblasts (a, c) or HSCs (b) were co-incubated with YT cells for 12 h (a, b) or with primary NK cells for 2 h (c). Cytotoxicity assays were performed either in the presence of 100 nM granule exocytosis inhibitor, CMA or following pre-incubation of the YT or primary NK cells with 25 mM Granzyme B inhibitor 3,4-DCI. The graphs represent the average and the the s.e. of triplicate measurements from at least three independent experiments. *Po0.01, **Po0.001, ***Po0.0001.

Figure 4. Dcr2 attenuates killing of senescent cells through the death receptor pathway. Dcr2 expression level in senescent and growing IMR- 90 fibroblasts (a, b) and human HSCs (c, d) were evaluated by quantitative RT–PCR analysis (a, c) and immunoblotting (b, d). Dcr2-deficient senescent IMR-90 cells were incubated with either 10 or 100 ng/ml TRAIL and cytotoxicity was determined (e), and Dcr2 knockdown confirmed (f). Senescent IMR-90 cells with siDcr2 or siControl were incubated with YT cells for 12 h and cytotoxicity was determined (g). In the parallel approach IMR-90 cells were infected with short hairpin RNA (shRNA) targeting Dcr2 (shDcr2) or control shRNA targeting luciferase (shLuci) and induced to senescence by etoposide treatment. Dcr2 protein level was assessed by immunoblot (h). The cells were co-incubated for 12 h with YT cells and cytotoxicity was determined (i). The graphs represent the average and the s.e. of triplicate measurements from at least four independent experiments *Po0.05, **Po0.001, ***Po0.0001.

Figure 5. Perforin promotes senescent cell clearance and limits liver fibrosis. Perforin knockout (Prf / ) and wt mice were treated with CCl4 to induce fibrosis. H&E and Sirius red staining show liver morphology and accumulation of fibrotic scar following the treatment (a). Morphometric analysis of Sirius red stained, entire liver sections (b). Expression of markers of activated HSCs, aSMA and Colagen1a, and senescence marker p15ink4b were tested by immunoblotting of whole-liver extracts (c). Four mice of each genotype are shown. SA-b-gal staining identified accumulation of senescent cells along the fibrotic scar areas in the livers (d). The presence of SA-b-gal-positive cells was quantified in the entire liver sections (e). At least five mice of each genotype were used for the analysis in B and E; **Po0.001, ***Po0.0001.


NK-cell-mediated clearance of senescent cells is one component of the coordinated process whereby cellular senescence limits the extent of liver fibrosis and facilitates wound repair.4,18 Recent studies also suggest that senescent cell clearance by immune cells promotes tumor regression in established tumors.18 Our results demonstrate that the granule exocytosis pathway, but not the death receptor pathway, is necessary for the specific killing of senescent fibroblasts and stellate cells by NK cells and participates in the clearance of senescent activated HSCs to limit liver fibrosis. Therefore, NK-cell-mediated cytotoxicity through granule exocytosis contributes to immune surveillance of senescent cells in vitro and in vivo.

In addition to the granule exocytosis pathway, most cytotoxic lymphocytes engage the death receptor pathway to eliminate target cells. This pathway is widely used by NK cells in the liver.21 NK cell express high levels of the death receptor ligand TRAIL upon activation with IL-2,26 are suggested to participate in the surveillance of the HSCs,35 and protect against tumor development following chemical carcinogenesis.36 Given this, we were surprised that death-receptor-mediated cytotoxicity was dispensable for the immune surveillance of senescent cells. Consistent with these findings, an anti-TRAIL antibody failed to inhibit immune system-mediated tumor clearance following p53 restoration in a liver carcinoma model18 (W Xue and SWL, unpublished data). Of course, we cannot rule out the possibility that death receptor pathways contribute to senescent cell clearance in other settings.

Why does granule exocytosis, and not the death-receptor signaling, mediate NK-cell surveillance of senescent cells? Mechanistically, this appears partly because of the accumulation of Dcr2 during senescence, which occurs in fibroblasts, certain epithelial cells11,18 and, as shown here, also senescent activated HSCs. Dcr2 can bind death-receptor ligands, with higher affinity to TRAIL, but as it lacks the activation domain it prevents downstream signaling through the death receptor pathway31,37 and, therefore, can protect senescent cells from death-receptorligand-mediated killing. Another decoy receptor, Dcr3, has higher affinity to FASL.38 However, in contrast to Dcr2, Dcr3 is a secreted receptor and is much less likely to have a role in direct interaction between senescent and NK cells. Although previously considered merely a senescence marker, our results establish a functional role for Dcr2 in protecting senescent cells from cytotoxicity through the death receptor pathway induced by NK cells and possibly other cells as well. The biological rationale for this regulation remains unclear, but may serve to prevent autoimmunity following short-term tissue damage.

In addition to blocking the death receptor pathway, senescent cells may also stimulate NK cells to induce the perforin-mediated killing. Senescent cells upregulate expression of several ligands of NK-cell receptor NKG2D4,39 and ICAM-1, the ligand of NK-cell receptor LFA-1.40 Studies suggest that activation of the NKG2D receptor induces granule exocytosis to eliminate cancer cells, a process that might be reinforced by signaling from LFA-1.41 In this manner, ligands upregulated in senescent cells might activate multiple NK-cell receptors to trigger granule exocytosis.

The role of granule exocytosis in the surveillance of senescent cells has important ramifications for understanding and treating wound healing and cancer. Indeed, we show that the immune clearance of senescent activated HSCs has a significant impact on the pathophysiology of liver fibrosis in which the granule exocytosis pathway has been previously implicated.42,43 Beyond the liver, immune surveillance of senescent cells might have a significant role in other fibrosis-related pathological conditions.

Still, the most prevalent conditions where senescence has been studied to date involve cancer and aging.3,9 Senescent cells accumulate with age and contribute to functional decline of multiple tissues7,9 while perforin-mediated granule exocytosis diminishes at that time.47,48 Separate studies suggest that the integrity of the granule exocytosis pathway can modulate a variety of cancer phenotypes.49,50 Though definitive proof will require further testing, we speculate that the granule exocytosis pathway contributes to immune surveillance of senescent cells in each of these conditions. In principle, pharmacological modulation of this pathway, as has been recently described using IL21,51 might increase the clearance of senescent cells from premalignant, damaged or aged tissues to limit carcinogenesis and the decline in tissue function accompanying the accumulation of senescent cells.

REFERENCES 1 Serrano M, Lin AW, McCurrach ME, Beach D, Lowe SW. Oncogenic ras provokes premature cell senescence associated with accumulation of p53 and p16INK4a. Cell 1997; 88: 593–602.

2 Schmitt CA, Fridman JS, Yang M, Lee S, Baranov E, Hoffman RM et al. A senescence program controlled by p53 and p16INK4a contributes to the outcome of cancer therapy. Cell 2002; 109: 335–346.

3 Narita M, Lowe SW. Senescence comes of age. Nat Med 2005; 11: 920–922.

4 Krizhanovsky V, Yon M, Dickins RA, Hearn S, Simon J, Miething C et al. Senescence of activated stellate cells limits liver fibrosis. Cell 2008; 134: 657–667.

5 Jun JI, Lau LF. The matricellular protein CCN1 induces fibroblast senescence and restricts fibrosis in cutaneous wound healing. Nat Cell Biol 2010; 12: 676–685.

6 Pitiyage GN, Slijepcevic P, Gabrani A, Chianea YG, Lim KP, Prime SS et al. Senescent mesenchymal cells accumulate in human fibrosis by a telomereindependent mechanism and ameliorate fibrosis through matrix metalloproteinases. J Pathol 2011; 223: 604–617.

7 Baker DJ, Wijshake T, Tchkonia T, LeBrasseur NK, Childs BG, van de Sluis B et al. Clearance of p16Ink4a-positive senescent cells delays ageing-associated disorders. Nature 2011; 479: 232–236.

8 Kang TW, Yevsa T, Woller N, Hoenicke L, Wuestefeld T, Dauch D et al. Senescence surveillance of pre-malignant hepatocytes limits liver cancer development. Nature 2011; 479: 547–551.

9 Dimri GP, Lee X, Basile G, Acosta M, Scott G, Roskelley C et al. A biomarker that identifies senescent human cells in culture and in aging skin in vivo. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 1995; 92: 9363–9367.

10 Narita M, Nunez S, Heard E, Narita M, Lin AW, Hearn SA et al. Rb-mediated heterochromatin formation and silencing of E2F target genes during cellular senescence. Cell 2003; 113: 703–716

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Heat Shock Proteins (HSP) and Molecular Chaperones

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP




Report on the VIIth International Symposium on Heat Shock Proteins in Biology & Medicine

The major themes of this meeting were: new properties of heat shock proteins (HSPs) and heat shock factor (HSF) and role in the etiology of cancer, molecular chaperones in aging, extracellular HSPs in inflammation and immunity, role of heat shock and the heat shock response in immunity and cancer, protein aggregation disorders and HSP expression, and Hsp70 in blood cell differentiation.
This symposium was the seventh symposium in a series presided over by Dr Stuart Calderwood aimed at exploring the association of molecular chaperones, heat shock proteins, and the heat shock response in physiological/pathological processes. The biochemistry and ultrastructure of molecular chaperones was not emphasized, as these topics are well represented at other meetings. The major themes were: new properties of heat shock proteins (HSPs) and heat shock factor (HSF) and role in the etiology of cancer, molecular chaperones in aging, extracellular HSPs in inflammation and immunity, role of heat shock and the heat shock response in immunity and cancer, protein aggregation disorders and HSP expression, and Hsp70 in blood cell differentiation. This report gives a thematic overview and does not include all the topics presented.

One of the exciting aspects of the meeting involved advances made in understanding the biology of Hsp90. In recent years, we have understood the molecular chaperone activities of Hsp90 mostly in terms of its biochemistry, cooperative interactions with cochaperones. However, Dr Len Neckers (NCI/NIH), the conference keynote speaker, has opened up new areas in our understanding of this chaperone by characterizing the role of posttranslational modification (PTM) in terms of phosphorylation, acetylation, and sumoylation in Hsp90 biology. One particularly intriguing possibility is that altered signaling mechanisms characteristic of cancer may target such PTMs, and this could contribute to the “addiction to chaperones” observed in malignant cells. (Also discussed later by Dr Mehdi Mollapour, SUNY Upstate Medical University).

In addition, interesting differences in properties of the two Hsp90 isoforms have been detected. Dr Wei Li (University of Southern California) has shown that Hsp90a can be released into the extracellular environment and there take part in cell regulation, mediating for instance wound healing effects. In addition, proteomic studies carried out by Thomas Prince (NCI/NIH) in the Neckers lab indicate that Hsp90β may be more dedicated to “housekeeping” molecular chaperone functions while Hsp90α may play more glamorous roles in cell regulation. These distinctions might not be anticipated based on the rather minimal sequence differences between the Hsp90s but offer keen insights into the biology of this chaperone. Finally, Dr Tim Haystead (Duke University) discussed the approach of targeting ectopically expressed Hsp90 for imaging and treatment.

Another PTM with implications in the stress response is the modification of intracellular proteins by monosaccharides of O-linked β-N- acetylglucosamine (O-GlcNAc). Dr Natasha Zachara (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) discussed targets for this modification and roles in cytoprotection.

The poster session was also rich in Hsp90 studies, mostly from the Neckers lab—presentations by Kristin Beebe et al. (NCI/NIH) Posttranslational modification state of Hsp90 differentially affects binding of small molecule inhibitors; Toshiki Kijima et al. (NCI/NIH), Defined interactions between HSF1 and Hsp90; T. Prince et al. (NCI/NIH) Hsp90 and tyrosine kinase inhibitors: A synergistic approach towards combating cancer; Andrew W. Truman (University of Chicago)Quantitive ptoteomics of the yeast Hsp70/Hsp90 interactomes during DNA damage reveals chaperonedependent regulation of ribonucleotide reductase. Inhibition of Hsp90 via Cdomain induces temporally distinct phosphorylation patterns; and Diana M. Dunn (SUNY Upstate Medical University)Phosphorylation of human Hsp90 threonine 115 modulates chaperone function and drug sensitivity.

Hsp70 is also emerging as a factor in cell regulation, exhibiting properties beyond a narrow role in chaperoning. Dr Michael Sherman (Boston University) showed a key role for Hsp72 in mammary cancer, and this property did not seem to depend on alterations in protein folding. Instead, Hsp72 appeared to function through its co-chaperone Bag3, a major regulatory molecule in cell signaling. In addition, a presentation by Stuart Calderwood (Harvard Medical School) that included work by Jianlin Gong showed that Hsp72 is required for tumor initiation and metastasis in murine spontaneous breast cancer. These effects appeared to be partially mediated through regulation of expression of the protoooncogene cMet, a key player in invasion and metastasis in cancer. We anticipate advances in understanding of the roles of individual members of the Hsp70 family, as is currently emerging for Hsp90. The prospect of targeting Hsp70 with small molecule inhibitors was elegantly discussed by Maureen Murphy (The Wistar Institute), who introduced a novel class of drugs that could selectively kill cancer cells by inhibiting Hsp70 function. In a related topic, Dr Mathias P. Mayer (University of Heidelberg) showed a detailed analysis of the activities of inhibitors targeting various domains in Hsp70.

Dr Takanori Eguchi (Harvard Medical School) then described his studies showing an unconventional role for the extracellular protease MMP3 as a nuclear protein that could trigger molecular chaperone synthesis (HspA7) in mammary cancer. Interestingly, a role in cancer for the Hsp70 co-chaperone Hsp40 was also shown by Dr Jane Trepel (NCI/NIH).

One presentation that stood apart was that of Dr Carmen Garrido (INSERM U866) who has shown very impressive studies indicating a key role for Hsp70 in hematopoiesis, acting through the factor GATA1. This role appeared to depend on nuclear localization of Hsp70, and Dr Garrido is attempting to study the role of PTM, particularly phosphorylation in this function/localization of Hsp70. This continued the theme of HSP PTM and regulation in the cell.


A symposium on molecular chaperones in aging was organized by Dr Shelley Buffenstein (University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio). This symposium featured some fascinating studies on the naked mole rat (NMR), a rodent with a remarkable lifespan based on size (32 years compared to 3 years in the comparably sized mouse). This has permitted comparative biology studies that have uncovered important aspects of the aging process in mammals. Dr Buffenstein showed that one aspect of the proteotoxic response was enhanced in NMR—proteasome activity that was resistant to oxidative stress as well as conventional proteasome inhibitors. Such proteasome resistance appeared to be conferred by Hsp70 and Hsp40. Karl Rodriguez (also from the UTHSC San Antonio) stressed the importance of Hsp25 in the longevity of NMR. This small HSP is expressed to very high levels in this organism. Kenneth B. Storey (Carleton University) finally gave an encyclopedic presentation entitled “HeatShock Proteins and Hypometabolism in Nature”, discussing the multiple roles of chaperones in hibernation and other processes involving a step down in metabolism.


Michael Sherman (Boston University) chaired a lively and highly diverse session on protein aggregation disorders and HSPs. Gary Jones (Maynooth University) discussed his studies on the roles of Hsp104, Hsp70, and Hsp40 in prion propagation in yeast, concentrating on Hsp70. The Hsp complex was able to dissolve prions in yeast. Daniel Kaganovich (Hebrew University) then continued in a yeast theme, discussing a further strategy for resolving proteotoxic stress involving asymmetric cell division in which damaged proteins and mitochondria remain with the mother cell after mitosis. Nava Zaarur (Boston University) then discussed the role of aggresome particles in resolving aggregated proteins, in this case in eucaryotes. Alberto Macario (University of Maryland School of Medicine) discussed the role of chaperonins in proteotoxic disorders dealing with the effects of a pathogenic mutation of human CCT5 on its intrinsic properties. Dr Elaine C. Lee (University of Connecticut) discussed another type of stress. She showed significant roles for chaperones in osmotic stress responses of Caenorhabditis elegans models of polyglutamine diseases.


Although it is now generally accepted that HSPs can escape the confines of the cell, many questions still remain regarding their extracellular properties, particularly with regard to their immune effects. These questions include: whether HSPs are mostly immunostimulatory or immunosuppressive, whether they can induce sterile inflammation, and what structures on the immune cells recognize the HSPs. Dr Cristina Bonorino (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul) chaired a symposium “HSP as modulators of immunity: prokaryotic meets eukaryotic” featuring presentations by Robert Binder (University of Pittsburgh), Eckhart R. Podack (University of Miami), Renata Pasqualini (University of New Mexico Medical School), and Cristina Bonorino. In short, the talks indicated that while the prokaryotic chaperone DNA-PK can be immunosppressive and prolong the lifetime of transplanted tissues and reduce the morbidity of arthritis (Drs Bonorino and Kamal Moudgil (University of Maryland School of Medicine)), HSPs can also be immunostimulatory and act as cancer vaccines when associated with cancer antigens (Drs Binder and Podack). In the discussion, it was stressed that these effects may be related to HSP dose, with low doses of HSP antigen complex favoring immunity while higher doses may lead to immunoregulatory effects (Dr Binder). Most parties agreed that much future study is required to resolve all these issues. It was also suggested, inspired by the presentation of Dr Neckers, that HSP PTMs might also be playing roles in shading the immune effects of HSPs (Dr Bonorino). In the next session, Drs Shawn Wang (Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine) and John Subjeck (Roswell Park Cancer Institute) discussed the molecular foundations of their highly effective large HSP vaccines that are now in clinical trial for tumor immunotherapy. They indicated that the high avidity for antigen of the larger HSPs might be key for effectiveness. Although the nature of HSP receptors is still not fully resolved, Ayesha Murshid (Harvard Medical School) made a strong case for the scavenger receptor SREC-I as a key molecule in the effects of HSPs on immune cells. As many of the HSPs are in large families, it has not been clear whether all members of Hsp90 or Hsp70 can function outside the cell. Dr Wei Li (University of Southern California) showed that HSP90 family member Hsp90α is the major secreted factor while Dr John Williams (University of Chester) showed potent extracellular effects for human HSP70 isoform HSPA1A. Extracellular roles are not restricted to Hsp90, and Edward O’Brien (Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta/University of Calgary) discussed the extracellular role of heat shock protein 27 (HSPB1) in inflammatory vascular disease. Another lively issue is whether HSPs are released as free proteins, packaged in exosomes, or whether both forms co-exist. This issue was discussed by Monika Fleshner (University of Colorado) and Antonio De Maio (University of California San Diego). Dr De Maio brought up the interesting scenario of Hsp70 binding directly to lipid membranes and perhaps forming membrane channels (Ryan White, University of Maryland).

HSPs are evidently not the only types of stress proteins that can function in the extracellular milieu, as indicated by Dr Michael A. Lynes (University of Connecticut). In a presentation entitled Therapeutic manipulation of the stress response during inflammatory disease, Dr Lynes showed a significant role for extracellular metallothionen in inflammatory bowel disease. Along those lines, Dr George Perdrizet (University of California San Diego) discussed the use of hyperbaric oxygen for enhanced wound healing in diabetic neuropathy, showing impressive clinical findings.

see more at — doi:  10.1007/s12192-014-0562-z

Lens Intermediate Filaments

 The ocular lens assembles two separate Intermediate Filament systems sequentially with differentiation. Canonical 8–11 nm IFs composed of Vimentin are assembled in lens epithelial cells and younger fiber cells, while the fiber cell-specific Beaded Filaments are switched on as fiber cell elongation initiates. Some of the key features of both filament systems are reviewed. Actin filaments and microtubules are essential to the most elemental functions of eukaryotic cells. These filamentous structures are assembled from proteins derived from small, highly conserved gene families. Though tissue specificity exists in the expression of some actin and tubulin family members, they are generally expressed in a ubiquitous manner, and are required for eukaryotic cell survival and replication. In contrast, the family of proteins that comprise the cytoplasmic Intermediate Filaments (IFs) is one of the largest in the human genome with greater than 60 members. IFs are generally not required for cell survival, and are absent from single cell eukaryotes, suggesting a more recent appearance on the evolutionary stage, and a less-essential role in the biology of the cell.
The IF family also differs sharply from actins and tubulins in that there is great variation in both size and sequence among the IF proteins, with sequence identity falling below 30% between more distant members of the human IF family. However, despite the large number of IF proteins available for the construction of IFs, any given cell typically expresses only 1–3 IF proteins, with expression tightly restricted to cell type and state of differentiation. This suggests a considerable degree of cell-specific specialization.
While IF proteins show considerable sequence and size variation, they are unified into a family on the basis of three major features:
1. Predicted domain structure (see figure 1): Algorithms that predict coiled-coil structure show a common predicted domain structure consisting of a) head and tail domains which are quite variable in both size and sequence, and b) a central rod domain where the size (~310 amino acids) and predicted secondary structure is strongly conserved. The rod domain consists of large regions of alpha helical structure (coil domains) interrupted by short non-helical regions (“linkers”) that connect the coil domains. The size, number, and placement of linkers and coils are well-conserved. Moreover, the coil domains exhibit a heptad repeat pattern where the 1, 4 positions in the heptad are dominated by hydrophobic amino acids. Because the 1,4 positions are aligned on one  side of the helix, they form a largely hydrophobic “stripe” that runs along one side of the alpha helix. This stripe mediates the dimerization of two matched coil domains. The hydrophobic stripe gently twists around the axis of the helix, giving rise to a supercoiling of two alpha helices, hence the “coiled-coil”.
The requisite hydrophobicity at the 1, 4 positions of the heptad can be conferred by any of several amino acids, thus the central rod domain of IF proteins, while showing conserved secondary structure, also exhibits a generally high degree of sequence variation. The exceptions to this are two short motifs found at either end of the central rod domain, commonly called the Helix Initiation Motif (HIM) and the Helix termination Motif (HTM). At these two sites the primary sequence among IF proteins is well conserved. Not surprisingly, the HIM and HTM motifs are intolerant of mutations, with the majority of known IF diseases arising from point mutations in these sites (
2. Conserved gene structure: Sequence analysis of IF proteins has allowed clustering of IF proteins into several major classes. Sequence conservation in the rod domain is high within a class (typically greater than 70%) but low between classes. Analysis of the IF genes shows that there is conservation of gene structure as well within the IF family, with the number and placement of introns and exons well conserved, especially in the central rod domain. The degree of gene structure conservation correlates well with the degree of primary sequence conservation, and reinforces the grouping of IF proteins into classes on the basis of primary sequence.
The Type I and II IF classes are called cytokeratins, and these comprise the IFs of epithelia. These begin assembly as an obligate heterodimer of one Type I and one Type II cytokeratin. The Type III IF proteins include vimentin, desmin, GFAP, and peripherin, and these are commonly found in tissues of mesenchymal origin. While Type III IF proteins can heterodimerize, they are more commonly found as homomeric filaments. The Type IV IF proteins are the neurofilament proteins Heavy (NFH), Medium (NFM) and Light (NFL), which assemble collectively into the IFs of neurons.
3. IF proteins form 8–11 nm diameter IFs. Ultimately, despite the differences in head/ tail size and sequence, and variation in the rod domain sequence, all cytoplasmic IF proteins typically assemble into 8–11 nm IFs.
The mechanism by which vimentin is removed as the cell transitions to the organelle-free state is unknown. In cells undergoing mitosis, vimentin IFs are routinely dismantled by phosphorlylation (Inagaki, Nishi et al. 1987), a modification that causes the relatively stable IF polymer break up into smaller subunits, thought to be tetramers. These are subsequently reassembled after cell division is complete. However, vimentin in lens fiber cells appears to removed, and not simply dismantled. IFs are known to be among the first targets of calcium activated proteases (calpains) in cells that are damaged, and many investigators have demonstrated the calcium-activated degradation of both vimentin and BFs in lens(Yoshida, Murachi et al. 1984; Truscott, Marcantonio et al. 1990; Marcantonio and Duncan 1991; Bettelheim, Qin et al. 1995; Andersson, Sjostrand et al. 1996; Sanderson, Marcantonio et al. 1996; Sanderson, Marcantonio et al. 2000). The dismantling of organelles implies a potential release of calcium from organelles in which it is otherwise routinely sequestered. Whether this release occurs, and whether it alters cytoplasmic calcium levels to a degree that would activate those calpains present in the fiber cell is not known.
Caspases activated in the apoptotic cascade can target conserved sites in IF proteins(Caulin, Salvesen et al. 1997). The elimination of organelles from the fiber cell represents an incomplete apoptotic event, and thus those enzymes responsible for organelle elimination may also represent a viable mechanism for explanation of vimentin’s suggested disappearance(Oshima 2002; Omary, Coulombe et al. 2004).
The loss or reduction of vimentin levels does not leave the mature lens fiber cell devoid of an IF system, however. In a manner that emulates IF switching seen in stratified epithelia, a second generation IF system is switched on in the lens as vimentin is being switched off. It is here where the story of the lens IF system takes the most unusual turn yet described in the IF field.
The initial recognition that the mature lens fiber cells departed from the IF dogma was made when Maisel and co-workers noted the presence of “Beaded Chain Filaments” or Beaded Filaments (BFs) in an electron microscopic analysis of chick lens homogenates (Maisel and Perry 1972; Maisel 1977; Bradley and Maisel 1978; Bradley, Ireland et al. 1979). These studies noted a clearly filamentous structure that was distinct from thin filaments, microtubules, and IFs, which at that time were emerging as the universal cytoskeletal structures common to essentially all vertebrate cells. Speculation emerged that these structures were thin filaments with bound alpha crystallin particles, or nucleosomes on DNA, but these explanations were ruled out experimentally (Bloemendal, Berbers et al. 1984; Ireland and Maisel 1984).
Consistent with the emerging role of IFAPs in modulating and adapting IF function is the observation that fiber cell vimentin IFs interact with the N Cadherin-gamma catenin complex (Leonard, Chan et al. 2008), lengsin(Wyatt, Gao et al. 2008), MIP(Lindsey Rose, Gourdie et al. 2006), periplakin(Yoon and FitzGerald 2008), tropomodulin(Fischer, Quinlan et al. 2003) and possibly other complexes which are present in lens(Bagchi, Katar et al. 2002; Straub, Boda et al. 2003; Bagchi, Katar et al. 2004). The number of candidate linker proteins demonstrated in lens leads to the expectation that the BF and IF are likely to accomplish multiple functions, and that these may be modulated as differentiation progresses, and as the fiber cell proteome changes, either by expression or proteolysis. Similarly, the small heat shock proteins, whose chaperone function appears essential to IF/BF assembly and maintenance, must be considered as critical parts of the biology of IFs in lens. Mutations in the small heat shock proteins have been shown to precipitate a failure in the IF systems in many tissues, and in lens specifically, and to subsequently emulate IF diseases (FitzGerald and Graham 1991; Nicholl and Quinlan 1994; Carter, Hutcheson et al. 1995; Vicart, Caron et al. 1998; Muchowski, Valdez et al. 1999; Perng, Cairns et al. 1999; Perng, Muchowski et al. 1999; Evgrafov, Mersiyanova et al. 2004; Treweek, Rekas et al. 2005; Song, Hanson et al. 2008). The growing multiplicity of IF interactions underscores the need to expect that failure in “IF function” in the lens can result from failure in a wide spectrum of proteins that affect assembly, phosphorylation, proteolytic modification, stability, removal, or linkage to other cellular structures, and that “IF failure” is likely to show considerable variability in phenotype.

Morphological characterization of the AlphaA- and AlphaB-crystallin double knockout mouse lens    Edited by Harry Maisel

Daniel L BoyleLarry TakemotoJames P Brady and Eric F Wawrousek
BMC Ophthalmology 2003; 3:3

Background: One approach to resolving some of the in vivo functions of alpha-crystallin is to generate animal models where one or both of the alpha-crystallin gene products have been eliminated. In the single alpha-crystallin knockout mice, the remaining alpha-crystallin may fully or partially compensate for some of the functions of the missing protein, especially in the lens, where both alphaA and alphaB are normally expressed at high levels. The purpose of this study was to characterize gross lenticular morphology in normal mice and mice with the targeted disruption of alphaA- and alphaB-crystallin genes (alphaA/BKO). Methods: Lenses from 129SvEvTac mice and alphaA/BKO mice were examined by standard scanning electron microscopy and confocal microscopy methodologies. Results: Equatorial and axial (sagittal) dimensions of lenses for alphaA/BKO mice were significantly smaller than age-matched wild type lenses. No posterior sutures or fiber cells extending to the posterior capsule of the lens were found in alphaA/BKO lenses. Ectopical nucleic acid staining was observed in the posterior subcapsular region of 5 wk and anterior subcapsular cortex of 54 wk alphaA/BKO lenses. Gross morphological differences were also observed in the equatorial/bow, posterior and anterior regions of lenses from alphaA/BKO mice as compared to wild mice. Conclusion: These results indicated that both alphaA- and alphaB-crystallin are necessary for proper fiber cell formation, and that the absence of alpha-crystallin can lead to cataract formation.


Wilfried W. de JongS, Jack A. M. Leunissen, Pieter J. M. Leenen, Anneke Zweers, and Marlies Versteeg
J BIOL CHEM  1988; 263(11):5141-5149

The amino acid sequences of the a-crystallin A and B chains of the dogfish, Squalus acanthias, have been determined. Comparison with a-crystallins from other species reveals that charged amino acid replacements have been strongly avoided in the evolution of this lens protein. The homology of a-crystallins with the small heat shock proteins is pronounced throughout the major part of the proteins, starting from the position of the first intron in the a-crystallin genes, but is also detectable in the amino-terminal sequences of human, Xenopus, and Drosophila small heat shock proteins. In addition, a remarkable short sequence similarity is present only in the amino termini of dogfish aB and Drosophila HSP22. The Schistosoma egg antigen p40 turns out to have a tandomly repeated region of homology with the common sequence domain of a-crystallins and small heat shock proteins. Comparison of hydropathy profiles indicates the conservation of conformation of the common domains in these three families of proteins. Construction of phylogenetic trees suggests that the aA and aB genes apparently originated from a single ancestral small heat shock protein gene and indicates that introns have been lost during the evolution of the heat shock protein.

Acknowledgment – Maisel, H. (ed) (1985) The Ocular Lens, Marcel Dekker, New. York


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Protein profiling in cancer and metabolic diseases

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Deep Protein Profiling Key

Company has encouraged by two recent reports that emphasise the importance of protein profiling to improve outcomes in cancer treatment.

Proteome Sciences plc has strongly encouraged by two recent reports that emphasise the importance of protein profiling to improve outcomes in cancer treatment. These highlight the growing need for more detailed, personal assessment of protein profiles to improve the management of cancer treatment.

In the first study two groups from University College London and Cancer Research UK demonstrated that genetic mutations in cancer can lead to changes in the proteins on the cell surface1. These are new sequences which are seen as foreign by the body’s immune system and, with appropriate immunotherapy, the level of response in lung cancer was greatly enhanced.

However many of the patients with these types of mutations unfortunately still did not respond which highlighted the need for deeper analysis of the protein expression in tumours in order to better appreciate the mechanisms that contribute to treatment failure.

The second study, led by Professor Nigel Bundred of Manchester University, reported that use of two drugs that act on the same breast cancer target, an over-expressing protein called Her-2, were able to eradicate detectable tumours in around 10% of those treated in just 11 days, with 87% of those treated having a proteomic change indicating cells had stopped growing and/or cell death had increased2.

Whilst these results appear very promising it is worth noting that the over-expressing Her-2 target is only present in about 20% of breast tumours meaning this combination therapy was successful in clearing tumours in just 2% of the total breast cancer population.

Dr. Ian Pike, Chief Operating Officer of Proteome Sciences commented, “Both these recent studies should rightly be recognised as important steps forward towards better cancer treatment. However, in order to overcome the limitations of current drug therapy programs, a much deeper and more comprehensive analysis of the complex protein networks that regulate tumour growth and survival is required and will be essential to achieve a major advance in the battle to treat cancer.

“Our SysQuant® workflows provide that solution. As an example, in pancreatic cancer3 we have successfully mapped the complex network of regulatory processes and demonstrate the ability to devise personalised treatment combinations on an individual basis for each patient. A retrospective study with SysQuant® to predict response to the targeted drug Sorafenib in liver cancer is in process and we are planning further prospective trials to guide personalised treatment selection in liver cancer.

“We are already delivering systems-wide biology solutions through SysQuant® and TMTcalibrator™ programs to our clients that are generating novel biological data and results using more sensitive profiling that are helping them to better understand their drug development programs and to provide new biomarkers for tracking patient response in clinical trials.

“We are strongly positioned to deliver more comprehensive analysis of proteins and cellular pathways across other areas of disease and in particular to extend the use of SysQuant® with other leading cancer research groups in liver and other cancers.”

Proteome Sciences has also expanded its offering in personalised medicine through the use of its TMTcalibrator™ technology to uniquely identify protein biomarkers that reveal active cancer and other disease processes in body fluid samples. The importance of these ‘mechanistic’ biomarkers is that they are essential to monitor that drugs are being effective and that they can be used as early biomarkers of disease recurrence.

Using SysQuant® and TMTcalibrator™, Proteome Sciences can deliver more comprehensive analysis and provide unparalleled levels of sensitivity and breadth of coverage of the proteome, enabling faster, more efficient drug development and more accurate disease diagnosis.


Discovering ‘Outlier’ Enzymes

Researchers at TSRI and Salk Institute have discovered ‘Outlier’ enzymes that could offer new targets to treat type 2 diabetes and inflammatory disorders.

A team led by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have discovered two enzymes that appear to play a role in metabolism and inflammation—and might someday be targeted with drugs to treat type 2 diabetes and inflammatory disorders. The discovery is unusual because the enzymes do not bear a resemblance—in their structures or amino-acid sequences—to any known class of enzymes.

The team of scientists nevertheless identified them as “outlier” members of the serine/threonine hydrolase class, using newer techniques that detect biochemical activity. “A huge fraction of the human ‘proteome’ remains uncharacterized, and this paper shows how chemical approaches can be used to uncover proteins of a given functionality that have eluded classification based on sequence or predicted structure,” said co-senior author Benjamin F. Cravatt, chair of TSRI’s Department of Chemical Physiology.

“In this study, we found two genes that control levels of lipids with anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory activity, suggesting exciting targets for diabetes and inflammatory diseases,” said co-senior author Alan Saghatelian, who holds the Dr. Frederik Paulsen Chair at the Salk Institute. The study, which appeared as a Nature Chemical Biology Advance Online Publication on March 28, 2016, began as an effort in the Cravatt laboratory to discover and characterize new serine/threonine hydrolases using fluorophosphonate (FP) probes—molecules that selectively bind and, in effect, label the active sites of these enzymes.

Pulling FP-binding proteins out of the entire proteome of test cells and identifying them using mass spectrometry techniques, the team matched nearly all to known hydrolases. The major outlier was a protein called androgen-induced gene 1 protein (AIG1). The only other one was a distant cousin in terms of sequence, a protein called ADTRP. “Neither of these proteins had been characterized as an enzyme; in fact, there had been little functional characterization of them at all,” said William H. Parsons, a research associate in the Cravatt laboratory who was co-first author of the study.

Experiments on AIG1 and ADTRP revealed that they do their enzymatic work in a unique way. “It looks like they have an active site that is novel—it had never been described in the literature,” said Parsons. Initial tests with panels of different enzyme inhibitors showed that AIG1 and ADTRP are moderately inhibited by inhibitors of lipases—enzymes that break down fats and other lipids. But on what specific lipids do these newly discovered outlier enzymes normally work?

At the Salk Institute, the Saghatelian laboratory was investigating a class of lipids it had discovered in 2014. Known as fatty acid esters of hydroxy fatty acids (FAHFAs), these molecules showed strong therapeutic potential. Saghatelian and his colleagues had found that boosting the levels of one key FAHFA lipid normalizes glucose levels in diabetic mice and also reduces inflammation.

“[Ben Cravatt’s] lab was screening panels of lipids to find the ones that their new enzymes work on,” said Saghatelian, who is a former research associate in the Cravatt laboratory. “We suggested they throw FAHFAs in there—and these turned out to be very good substrates.” The Cravatt laboratory soon developed powerful inhibitors of the newly discovered enzymes, and the two labs began working together, using the inhibitors and genetic techniques to explore the enzymes’ functions in vitro and in cultured cells.

Co-first author Matthew J. Kolar, an MD-PhD student, performed most of the experiments in the Saghatelian lab. The team concluded that AIG1 and ADTRP, at least in the cell types tested, appear to work mainly to break down FAHFAs and not any other major class of lipid. In principle, inhibitors of AIG1 and ADTRP could be developed into FAHFA-boosting therapies.

“Our prediction,” said Saghatelian, “is that if FAHFAs do what we think they’re doing, then using an enzyme inhibitor to block their degradation would make FAHFA levels go up and should thus reduce inflammation as well as improve glucose levels and insulin sensitivity.” The two labs are now collaborating on further studies of the new enzymes—and the potential benefits of inhibiting them—in mouse models of diabetes, inflammation and autoimmune disease.

“One of the neat things this study shows,” said Cravatt, “is that even for enzyme classes as well studied as the hydrolases, there may still be hidden members that, presumably by convergent evolution, arrived at that basic enzyme mechanism despite sharing no sequence or structural homology.”

Other co-authors of the study, “AIG1 and ADTRP are atypical integral membrane hydrolases that degrade bioactive FAHFAs,” were Siddhesh S. Kamat, Armand B. Cognetta III, Jonathan J. Hulce and Enrique Saez, of TSRI; and co-senior author Barbara B. Kahn of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School


New Weapon Against Breast Cancer

Molecular marker in healthy tissue can predict a woman’s risk of getting the disease, research says.

Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) and collaborators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have identified a molecular marker in normal breast tissue that can predict a woman’s risk for developing breast cancer, the leading cause of death in women with cancer worldwide.

The work, led by HSCI principal faculty member Kornelia Polyak and Rulla Tamimi of BWH, was published in an early online release and in the April 1 issue of Cancer Research.

The study builds on Polyak’s earlier research finding that women already identified as having a high risk of developing cancer — namely those with a mutation called BRCA1 or BRCA2 — or women who did not give birth before their 30s had a higher number of mammary gland progenitor cells.

In the latest study, Polyak, Tamimi, and their colleagues examined biopsies, some taken as many as four decades ago, from 302 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Nurses’ Health Study II who had been diagnosed with benign breast disease. The researchers compared tissue from the 69 women who later developed cancer to the tissue from the 233 women who did not. They found that women were five times as likely to develop cancer if they had a higher percentage of Ki67, a molecular marker that identifies proliferating cells, in the cells that line the mammary ducts and milk-producing lobules. These cells, called the mammary epithelium, undergo drastic changes throughout a woman’s life, and the majority of breast cancers originate in these tissues.

Doctors already test breast tumors for Ki67 levels, which can inform decisions about treatment, but this is the first time scientists have been able to link Ki67 to precancerous tissue and use it as a predictive tool.

“Instead of only telling women that they don’t have cancer, we could test the biopsies and tell women if they were at high risk or low risk for developing breast cancer in the future,” said Polyak, a breast cancer researcher at Dana-Farber and co-senior author of the paper.

“Currently, we are not able to do a very good job at distinguishing women at high and low risk of breast cancer,” added co-senior author Tamimi, an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. “By identifying women at high risk of breast cancer, we can better develop individualized screening and also target risk reducing strategies.”

To date, mammograms are the best tool for the early detection, but there are risks associated with screening. False positive and negative results and over-diagnosis could cause psychological distress, delay treatment, or lead to overtreatment, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Mammography machines also use low doses of radiation. While a single mammogram is unlikely to cause harm, repeated screening can potentially cause cancer, though the NCI writes that the benefits “nearly always outweigh the risks.”

“If we can minimize unnecessary radiation for women at low risk, that would be good,” said Tamimi.

Screening for Ki67 levels would “be easy to apply in the current setting,” said Polyak, though the researchers first want to reproduce the results in an independent cohort of women.


AIG1 and ADTRP are atypical integral membrane hydrolases that degrade bioactive FAHFAs

William H ParsonsMatthew J Kolar, …., Barbara B KahnAlan Saghatelian & Benjamin F Cravatt

Nature Chemical Biology 28 March 2016          

Enzyme classes may contain outlier members that share mechanistic, but not sequence or structural, relatedness with more common representatives. The functional annotation of such exceptional proteins can be challenging. Here, we use activity-based profiling to discover that the poorly characterized multipass transmembrane proteins AIG1 and ADTRP are atypical hydrolytic enzymes that depend on conserved threonine and histidine residues for catalysis. Both AIG1 and ADTRP hydrolyze bioactive fatty acid esters of hydroxy fatty acids (FAHFAs) but not other major classes of lipids. We identify multiple cell-active, covalent inhibitors of AIG1 and show that these agents block FAHFA hydrolysis in mammalian cells. These results indicate that AIG1 and ADTRP are founding members of an evolutionarily conserved class of transmembrane threonine hydrolases involved in bioactive lipid metabolism. More generally, our findings demonstrate how chemical proteomics can excavate potential cases of convergent or parallel protein evolution that defy conventional sequence- and structure-based predictions.

Figure 1: Discovery and characterization of AIG1 and ADTRP as FP-reactive proteins in the human proteome.

(a) Competitive ABPP-SILAC analysis to identify FP-alkyne-inhibited proteins, in which protein enrichment and inhibition were measured in proteomic lysates from SKOV3 cells treated with FP-alkyne (20 μM, 1 h) or DMSO using the FP-biotin…


  1. Willems, L.I., Overkleeft, H.S. & van Kasteren, S.I. Current developments in activity-based protein profiling. Bioconjug. Chem. 25, 11811191 (2014).
  2. Niphakis, M.J. & Cravatt, B.F. Enzyme inhibitor discovery by activity-based protein profiling.Annu. Rev. Biochem. 83, 341377 (2014).
  3. Berger, A.B., Vitorino, P.M. & Bogyo, M. Activity-based protein profiling: applications to biomarker discovery, in vivo imaging and drug discovery. Am. J. Pharmacogenomics 4,371381 (2004).
  4. Liu, Y., Patricelli, M.P. & Cravatt, B.F. Activity-based protein profiling: the serine hydrolases.Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 96, 1469414699 (1999).
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  6. Bachovchin, D.A. et al. Superfamily-wide portrait of serine hydrolase inhibition achieved by library-versus-library screening. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 107, 2094120946 (2010).
  7. Jessani, N. et al. A streamlined platform for high-content functional proteomics of primary human specimens. Nat. Methods 2, 691697 (2005).
  8. Higa, H.H., Diaz, S. & Varki, A. Biochemical and genetic evidence for distinct membrane-bound and cytosolic sialic acid O-acetyl-esterases: serine-active-site enzymes. Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 144, 10991108 (1987).

Academic cross-fertilization by public screening yields a remarkable class of protein phosphatase methylesteras-1 inhibitors

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Apr 26; 108(17): 6811–6816.    doi:  10.1073/pnas.1015248108
National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored screening centers provide academic researchers with a special opportunity to pursue small-molecule probes for protein targets that are outside the current interest of, or beyond the standard technologies employed by, the pharmaceutical industry. Here, we describe the outcome of an inhibitor screen for one such target, the enzyme protein phosphatase methylesterase-1 (PME-1), which regulates the methylesterification state of protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) and is implicated in cancer and neurodegeneration. Inhibitors of PME-1 have not yet been described, which we attribute, at least in part, to a dearth of substrate assays compatible with high-throughput screening. We show that PME-1 is assayable by fluorescence polarization-activity-based protein profiling (fluopol-ABPP) and use this platform to screen the 300,000+ member NIH small-molecule library. This screen identified an unusual class of compounds, the aza-β-lactams (ABLs), as potent (IC50 values of approximately 10 nM), covalent PME-1 inhibitors. Interestingly, ABLs did not derive from a commercial vendor but rather an academic contribution to the public library. We show using competitive-ABPP that ABLs are exquisitely selective for PME-1 in living cells and mice, where enzyme inactivation leads to substantial reductions in demethylated PP2A. In summary, we have combined advanced synthetic and chemoproteomic methods to discover a class of ABL inhibitors that can be used to selectively perturb PME-1 activity in diverse biological systems. More generally, these results illustrate how public screening centers can serve as hubs to create spontaneous collaborative opportunities between synthetic chemistry and chemical biology labs interested in creating first-in-class pharmacological probes for challenging protein targets.

Protein phosphorylation is a pervasive and dynamic posttranslational protein modification in eukaryotic cells. In mammals, more than 500 protein kinases catalyze the phosphorylation of serine, threonine, and tyrosine residues on proteins (1). A much more limited number of phosphatases are responsible for reversing these phosphorylation events (2). For instance, protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) and PP1 are thought to be responsible together for > 90% of the total serine/threonine phosphatase activity in mammalian cells (3). Specificity is imparted on PP2A activity by multiple mechanisms, including dynamic interactions between the catalytic subunit (C) and different protein-binding partners (B subunits), as well as a variety of posttranslational chemical modifications (2, 4). Within the latter category is an unusual methylesterification event found at the C terminus of the catalytic subunit of PP2A that is introduced and removed by a specific methyltransferase (leucine carbxoylmethyltransferase-1 or LCMT1) (5, 6) and methylesterase (protein phosphatase methylesterase-1 or PME-1) (7), respectively (Fig. 1A). PP2A carboxymethylation (hereafter referred to as “methylation”) has been proposed to regulate PP2A activity, at least in part, by modulating the binding interaction of the C subunit with various regulatory B subunits (810). A predicted outcome of these shifts in subunit association is the targeting of PP2A to different protein substrates in cells. PME-1 has also been hypothesized to stabilize inactive forms of nuclear PP2A (11), and recent structural studies have shed light on the physical interactions between PME-1 and the PP2A holoenzyme (12).

There were several keys to the success of our probe development effort. First, screening for inhibitors of PME-1 benefited from the fluopol-ABPP technology, which circumvented the limited throughput of previously described substrate assays for this enzyme. Second, we were fortunate that the NIH compound library contained several members of the ABL class of small molecules. These chiral compounds, which represent an academic contribution to the NIH library, occupy an unusual portion of structural space that is poorly accessed by commercial compound collections. Although at the time of their original synthesis (23) it may not have been possible to predict whether these ABLs would show specific biological activity, their incorporation into the NIH library provided a forum for screening against many proteins and cellular targets, culminating in their identification as PME-1 inhibitors. We then used advanced chemoproteomic assays to confirm the remarkable selectivity displayed by ABLs for PME-1 across (and beyond) the serine hydrolase superfamily. That the mechanism for PME-1 inhibition involves acylation of the enzyme’s conserved serine nucleophile (Fig. 3) suggests that exploration of a more structurally diverse set of ABLs might uncover inhibitors for other serine hydrolases. In this way, the chemical information gained from a single high-throughput screen may be leveraged to initiate probe development programs for additional enzyme targets.

Projecting forward, this research provides an example of how public small-molecule screening centers can serve as a portal for spawning academic collaborations between chemical biology and synthetic chemistry labs. By continuing to develop versatile high-throughput screens and combining them with a small-molecule library of expanding structural diversity conferred by advanced synthetic methodologies, academic biologists and chemists are well-positioned to collaboratively deliver pharmacological probes for a wide range of proteins and pathways in cell biology.


New weapon against breast cancer

Molecular marker in healthy tissue can predict a woman’s risk of getting the disease, research says

April 6, 2016 | Popular


New Group of Aging-Related Proteins Discovered

Scientists have discovered a group of six proteins that may help to divulge secrets of how we age, potentially unlocking new insights into diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and other aging-related diseases.

The proteins appear to play several roles in our bodies’ cells, from decreasing the amount of damaging free radicals and controlling the rate at which cells die to boosting metabolism and helping tissues throughout the body respond better to insulin. The naturally occurring amounts of each protein decrease with age, leading investigators to believe that they play an important role in the aging process and the onset of diseases linked to older age.

The research team led by Pinchas Cohen, M.D., dean and professor of the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, identified the proteins and observed their origin from mitochondria and their game-changing roles in metabolism and cell survival. This latest finding builds upon prior research by Dr. Cohen and his team that uncovered two significant proteins, humanin and MOTS-c, hormones that appear to have significant roles in metabolism and diseases of aging.

Unlike most other proteins, humanin and MOTS-c are encoded in mitochondria. Dr. Cohen’s team used computer analysis to see if the part of the mitochondrial genome that provides the code for humanin was coding for other proteins as well. The analysis uncovered the genes for six new proteins, which were dubbed small humanin-like peptides, or SHLPs, 1 through 6 (pronounced “schlep”).

After identifying the six SHLPs and successfully developing antibodies to test for several of them, the team examined both mouse tissues and human cells to determine their abundance in different organs as well as their functions. The proteins were distributed quite differently among organs, which suggests that the proteins have varying functions based on where they are in the body. Of particular interest is SHLP 2, according to Dr. Cohen.  The protein appears to have insulin-sensitizing, antidiabetic effects as well as neuroprotective activity that may emerge as a strategy to combat Alzheimer’s disease. He added that SHLP 6 is also intriguing, with a unique ability to promote cancer cell death and thus potentially target malignant diseases.

Proteins That May Protect Against Age Related Illnesses Discovered


The cell proliferation antigen Ki-67 organises heterochromatin

 Michal Sobecki, 

Antigen Ki-67 is a nuclear protein expressed in proliferating mammalian cells. It is widely used in cancer histopathology but its functions remain unclear. Here, we show that Ki-67 controls heterochromatin organisation. Altering Ki-67 expression levels did not significantly affect cell proliferation in vivo. Ki-67 mutant mice developed normally and cells lacking Ki-67 proliferated efficiently. Conversely, upregulation of Ki-67 expression in differentiated tissues did not prevent cell cycle arrest. Ki-67 interactors included proteins involved in nucleolar processes and chromatin regulators. Ki-67 depletion disrupted nucleologenesis but did not inhibit pre-rRNA processing. In contrast, it altered gene expression. Ki-67 silencing also had wide-ranging effects on chromatin organisation, disrupting heterochromatin compaction and long-range genomic interactions. Trimethylation of histone H3K9 and H4K20 was relocalised within the nucleus. Finally, overexpression of human or Xenopus Ki-67 induced ectopic heterochromatin formation. Altogether, our results suggest that Ki-67 expression in proliferating cells spatially organises heterochromatin, thereby controlling gene expression.


A protein called Ki-67 is only produced in actively dividing cells, where it is located in the nucleus – the structure that contains most of the cell’s DNA. Researchers often use Ki-67 as a marker to identify which cells are actively dividing in tissue samples from cancer patients, and previous studies indicated that Ki-67 is needed for cells to divide. However, the exact role of this protein was not clear. Before cells can divide they need to make large amounts of new proteins using molecular machines called ribosomes and it has been suggested that Ki-67 helps to produce ribosomes.

Now, Sobecki et al. used genetic techniques to study the role of Ki-67 in mice. The experiments show that Ki-67 is not required for cells to divide in the laboratory or to make ribosomes. Instead, Ki-67 alters the way that DNA is packaged in the nucleus. Loss of Ki-67 from mice cells resulted in DNA becoming less compact, which in turn altered the activity of genes in those cells.

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Sleep and memory

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Learning with the Lights Out

Researchers are uncovering the link between sleep and learning and how it changes throughout our lives.

By Jenny Rood | March 1, 2016

NIGHTY NIGHT: Goffredina Spanò from Jamie Edgin’s University of Arizona lab uses polysomnography to measure sleep in a toddler with Down syndrome.PAMELA SPEDER

By the early 2000s, scientists had found that sleep helps young adults consolidate memory by reinforcing and filing away daytime experiences. But the older adults that Rebecca Spencer was studying at the University of Massachusetts Amherst didn’t seem to experience the same benefit. Spencer wondered if developmental stage altered the relationship between sleep and memory, and chose nearby preschool children as subjects. She found that habitual nappers benefitted the most from daytime rest, largely because their memories decayed the most without a nap. “By staying awake, they have more interference from daytime experiences,” Spencer explains.

Until recently, most of the research into the relationship between memory and sleep has been conducted using young adults or animal models. These studies have suggested that dampened sensory inputs during sleep allow the brain to replay the day’s events during a period relatively free of distracting information, helping to solidify connections and transfer daytime hippocampal memories into long-term storage in the cortex. But how sleep and memory interact at different ages has been an open question.

In children younger than 18 months, learning is thought to occur in the cortex because the hippocampus isn’t yet fully developed. As a result, researchers hypothesize that infants don’t replay memories during sleep, the way adults do. Instead, sleep merely seems to prevent infants from forgetting as much as they would if they were awake. “The net effect is that sleep permits infants to retain more of the redundant details of a learning experience,” says experimental psychologist Rebecca Gómez of the University of Arizona. By the time they are two years old, “we think that children have the brain development that supports an active process of consolidation,” she adds.

At that age, adequate nighttime sleep becomes critical for learning. Toddlers who sleep less than 10 hours display lasting cognitive deficits, even if they catch up on sleep later in their development (Sleep, 30:1213-19, 2007). The effects are particularly strong in children with developmental disorders, who often suffer from sleep disruptions. “Kids with Down syndrome that are sleep-impaired look like they have very large differences in language,” says Jamie Edgin of the University of Arizona who studies sleep and cognition in such children. When comparing Down syndrome children who are sleep deprived with those who sleep normally, she has observed a vocabulary difference of more than 190 words on language tests, even after controlling for behavioral differences.

Understanding the impact of sleep on memory could also help another at-risk group of learners at the other end of the age spectrum. Previous research has suggested that older adults don’t remember newly acquired motor skills as well as young adults do, perhaps because the posttraining stages of the learning process appear diminished. But neuroscientist Maria Korman and her colleagues at the University of Haifa in Israel recently demonstrated that a nap soon after learning can allow the elderly to retain procedural memories just as well as younger people (Neurosci Lett, 606:173-76, 2015). Korman hypothesizes that by shortening the interval between learning and consolidation, the nap prevents intervening experiences from weakening the memory before it solidifies. Overnight sleep might be even better, if the motor skills—in this case a complex sequence of finger and thumb movements on the nondominant hand—are taught late enough in the day, something she is testing now.

Optimizing the timing of sleep and training in the elderly takes advantage of something Korman sees as a positive side of growing old. “As we age, our neural system becomes more aware of the relevance of the task,” Korman says. Unlike young adults who solidify all the information they acquire throughout the day, older people consolidate “those experiences that were tagged by the brain as very important.”

Tests for older adults’ memory acuity are generating new findings about the relationship between sleep and memory at other ages as well. After learning at a conference about a memory test for cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults, neuroscientist Jeanne Duffy of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston wondered if sleep could help strengthen the connection between names and faces. She and her colleagues found that young adults who slept overnight after learning a list of 20 names and faces showed a 12 percent increase in retention when tested 12 hours later compared with subjects who didn’t sleep between training and testing (Neurobiol Learn Mem, 126:31-38, 2015). The findings have “an immediate real-world application,” Duffy says, as they address a common memory concern among people of all ages.

A poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that adolescents have a deficit of nearly two hours of sleep per night during the school week compared with the weekend, suggesting the potential for serious learning impairments, according to Jared Saletin, a postdoctoral sleep researcher at Brown University. In fact, one study found that restricting 13- to 17-year-olds to six and a half hours of sleep a night for five nights reduced the information they absorbed in a school-like setting (J Adolesc Health, 47:523-25, 2010). However, other studies have suggested that four nights of just five hours of sleep didn’t impair 14- to 16-year-olds’ performance on tests of skills and vocabulary (Sleep Med, 12:170-78, 2011). A lack of consistency in study design and the ages of the subjects makes these conflicting results difficult to interpret, Gómez writes in a review, and much remains to be discovered about the true impact of sleep deficits on teenagers’ learning (Trans Issues in Psych Sci, 1:116-25, 2015).

Developing a fuller picture of what happens to memories during sleep—and how best to tweak sleep habits to aid the recall process—could benefit some of society’s most sleep-deprived members of every age. “We need to understand this role of sleep in memory because there is such potential for intervention,” Spencer says. “Now that we have a well-founded concept of what sleep can do for memory, it’s time to put it to the test.”


Associations Between Sleep Duration Patterns and Behavioral/Cognitive Functioning at School Entry

Évelyne Touchette, MPs,1,2 Dominique Petit, PhD,1 Jean R. Séguin, PhD,3,4,5 Michel Boivin, PhD,6,7 Richard E. Tremblay, PhD,2,3,4,5,8 and Jacques Y. Montplaisir, MD, CRCP(c), PhD1,5
Sleep. 2007 Sep 1; 30(9): 1213–1219.
See commentary “Sleep and the Developing Brain

The aim of the study was to investigate the associations between longitudinal sleep duration patterns and behavioral/cognitive functioning at school entry.
Design, Setting, and Participants:   Hyperactivity-impulsivity (HI), inattention, and daytime sleepiness scores were measured by questionnaire at 6 years of age in a sample of births from 1997 to 1998 in a Canadian province (N=1492). The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test – Revised (PPVT-R) was administered at 5 years of age and the Block Design subtest (WISC-III) was administered at 6 years of age. Sleep duration was reported yearly by the children’s mothers from age 2.5 to 6 years. A group-based semiparametric mixture model was used to estimate developmental patterns of sleep duration. The relationships between sleep duration patterns and both behavioral items and neurodevelopmental tasks were tested using weighted multivariate logistic regression models to control for potentially confounding psychosocial factors.  Results:   Four sleep duration patterns were identified: short persistent (6.0%), short increasing (4.8%),10-hour persistent (50.3%), and 11-hour persistent (38.9%). The association of short sleep duration patterns with high HI scores (P=0.001), low PPVT-R performance (P=0.002), and low Block Design subtest performance (P=0.004) remained significant after adjusting for potentially confounding variables.   Conclusions:   Shortened sleep duration, especially before the age of 41 months, is associated with externalizing problems such as HI and lower cognitive performance on neurodevelopmental tests. Results highlight the importance of giving a child the opportunity to sleep at least 10 hours per night throughout early childhood.

Citation: Touchette E; Petit D; Séguin JR; Boivin M; Tremblay RE; Montplaisir JY. Associations between sleep duration patterns and behavioral/cognitive functioning at school entry. SLEEP 2007;30(9):1213-1219.

Nap it or leave it in the elderly: A nap after practice relaxes age-related limitations in procedural memory consolidation

M. Kormana, , Y. DaganbA. Karnib   


•   Elderly individuals gain in practicing a new motor task as do young adults.
•   But elderly individuals fail to show delayed (offline) memory related gains.
•   A post-training nap uncovered robust offline skill consolidation in the elderly.
•   Consolidation processes are preserved in aging but are more stringently controlled.
•   Sleep scheduling can relax age related constraints on mnemonic processes.       
Using a training protocol that effectively induces procedural memory consolidation (PMC) in young adults, we show that older adults are good learners, robustly improving their motor performance during training. However, performance declined over the day, and overnight ‘offline’ consolidation phase performance gains were under-expressed. A post-training nap countered these deficits. PMC processes are preserved but under-engaged in the elderly; sleep can relax some of the age-related constraints on long-term plasticity.


A new face of sleep: The impact of post-learning sleep on recognition memory for face-name associations

Leonie Maurera, c, Kirsi-Marja Zittinga, b, Kieran Elliotta, Charles A. Czeislera, b, Joseph M. Rondaa, b, Jeanne F. Duffya, b, ,


•   We tested whether sleep influences the accuracy of remembering face-name associations.
•   Presentation and recall were 12 h apart, one time with 8 h sleep and once without.
•   More correct face-name pairs were recalled when there was a sleep opportunity.
•   Sleep duration or sleep stage was not associated with improvement between conditions.     

Sleep has been demonstrated to improve consolidation of many types of new memories. However, few prior studies have examined how sleep impacts learning of face-name associations. The recognition of a new face along with the associated name is an important human cognitive skill. Here we investigated whether post-presentation sleep impacts recognition memory of new face-name associations in healthy adults.

Fourteen participants were tested twice. Each time, they were presented 20 photos of faces with a corresponding name. Twelve hours later, they were shown each face twice, once with the correct and once with an incorrect name, and asked if each face-name combination was correct and to rate their confidence. In one condition the 12-h interval between presentation and recall included an 8-h nighttime sleep opportunity (“Sleep”), while in the other condition they remained awake (“Wake”).

There were more correct and highly confident correct responses when the interval between presentation and recall included a sleep opportunity, although improvement between the “Wake” and “Sleep” conditions was not related to duration of sleep or any sleep stage.

These data suggest that a nighttime sleep opportunity improves the ability to correctly recognize face-name associations. Further studies investigating the mechanism of this improvement are important, as this finding has implications for individuals with sleep disturbances and/or memory impairments.

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The Philosopher’s Stone?

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Mitochondria trigger cell aging, researchers discover

How to rejuvenate or prevent aging in human and mice cells
February 5, 2016

Preventing aging and rejuvenating human and mice cells in the lab (credit: Clara Correia‐Melo et al./EMBO Journal)

An international team of scientists led by João Passos at Newcastle University has for the first time shown thatmitochondria (the “batteries” of the cells) are major triggers for aging, and eliminating them upon the induction of senescence prevents senescence in the aging mouse liver.

As we grow old, cells in our bodies accumulate different types of damage and have increased inflammation, factors that are thought to contribute to the aging process.

As described Feb. 4 in an open-access paper in the EMBO Journal, the team carried out a series of genetic experiments involving human cells grown in the laboratory and succeeded in eliminating the majority, if not all, the mitochondria from aging cells.

Tricking mitochondria

Components of a typical mitochondrion (credit: Kelvinsong/Creative Commons)

Cells can normally eliminate faulty mitochondria by a process called mitophagy. The scientists were able to “trick” the cells into inducing this process in a grand scale, until all the mitochondria within the cells were physically removed.

To their surprise, they observed that the aging cells, after losing their mitochondria, showed characteristics similar to younger cells — that is, they became rejuvenated. The levels of inflammatory molecules, oxygen free radicals and expression of genes, which are among the makers of cellular aging, dropped to the level that would be expected in younger cells.

“This is a very exciting and surprising discovery,” said Passos. “We already had some clues that mitochondria played a role in the aging of cells, but scientists around the world have struggled to understand exactly how and to what extent these were involved.”

The team, involving other universities in the UK and the U.S., also deciphered a new mechanism by which mitochondria contribute to aging: mitochondrial biogenesis, the complex process by which mitochondria replicate themselves, is a major driver of cellular aging.

This work was funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Abstract of Mitochondria are required for pro-ageing features of the senescent phenotype

Cell senescence is an important tumour suppressor mechanism and driver of ageing. Both functions are dependent on the development of the senescent phenotype, which involves an overproduction of pro‐inflammatory and pro‐oxidant signals. However, the exact mechanisms regulating these phenotypes remain poorly understood. Here, we show the critical role of mitochondria in cellular senescence. In multiple models of senescence, absence of mitochondria reduced a spectrum of senescence effectors and phenotypes while preserving ATP production via enhanced glycolysis. Global transcriptomic analysis by RNA sequencing revealed that a vast number of senescent‐associated changes are dependent on mitochondria, particularly the pro‐inflammatory phenotype. Mechanistically, we show that the ATM, Akt and mTORC1 phosphorylation cascade integrates signals from the DNA damage response (DDR) towards PGC‐1β‐dependent mitochondrial biogenesis, contributing to a ROS‐mediated activation of the DDR and cell cycle arrest. Finally, we demonstrate that the reduction in mitochondrial content in vivo, by either mTORC1 inhibition or PGC‐1β deletion, prevents senescence in the ageing mouse liver. Our results suggest that mitochondria are a candidate target for interventions to reduce the deleterious impact of senescence in ageing tissues.



Mayo Clinic researchers extend lifespan by up to 35 percent in mice

February 3, 2016

Researchers at Mayo Clinic have discovered that senescent cells — cells that no longer divide and accumulate with age — shorten lifespan by as much as 35 percent in normal mice.

Removing these aging cells delays tumor formation, preserves tissue and organ function, and extends lifespan without observed adverse effects, the researchers found, writing Feb. 3 in Nature.

“Cellular senescence is a biological mechanism that functions as an ‘emergency brake’ used by damaged cells to stop dividing,” says Jan van Deursen, Ph.D., Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular biology at Mayo Clinic, and senior author of the paper. “While halting cell division of these cells is important for cancer prevention, it has been theorized that once the ‘emergency brake’ has been pulled, these cells are no longer necessary.”

As the immune system becomes less effective, senescent cells build up and damage adjacent cells, causing chronic inflammation, which is closely associated with frailty and age-related diseases.

Mayo Clinic researchers used a compound called AP20187 to remove senescent cells, which delayed tumor formation and reduced age-related deterioration of several organs, extending mediian lifespan of treated mice by 17 to 35 percent. The mice also had a healthier appearance and less inflammation in fat, muscle and kidney tissue.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Paul F. Glenn Foundation, the Ellison Medical Foundation, the Noaber Foundation, and the Mayo Clinic Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging.

Van Deursen is a co-inventor of the technology that has been licensed by Mayo Clinic to Unity Biotechnology. Mayo Clinic and Van Deursen have a financial interest in the technology.

Mayo Clinic | Researchers Extend Lifespan by as Much as 35 Percent in Mice


Abstract of Naturally occurring p16Ink4a-positive cells shorten healthy lifespan

Cellular senescence, a stress-induced irreversible growth arrest often characterized by expression of p16Ink4a (encoded by the Ink4a/Arf locus, also known as Cdkn2a) and a distinctive secretory phenotype, prevents the proliferation of preneoplastic cells and has beneficial roles in tissue remodelling during embryogenesis and wound healing. Senescent cells accumulate in various tissues and organs over time, and have been speculated to have a role in ageing. To explore the physiological relevance and consequences of naturally occurring senescent cells, here we use a previously established transgene, INK-ATTAC, to induce apoptosis in p16Ink4a-expressing cells of wild-type mice by injection of AP20187 twice a week starting at one year of age. We show that compared to vehicle alone, AP20187 treatment extended median lifespan in both male and female mice of two distinct genetic backgrounds. The clearance of p16Ink4a-positive cells delayed tumorigenesis and attenuated age-related deterioration of several organs without apparent side effects, including kidney, heart and fat, where clearance preserved the functionality of glomeruli, cardio-protective KATP channels and adipocytes, respectively. Thus, p16Ink4a-positive cells that accumulate during adulthood negatively influence lifespan and promote age-dependent changes in several organs, and their therapeutic removal may be an attractive approach to extend healthy lifespan.

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