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Archive - Apr 10, 2015

Wasabi Receptor Structure, Finally Revealed by Cryo-Electron Microscopy at 4 Angstrom Resolution, May Offer Clues to Relieving Pain with Targeted Drugs

In a feat that would have been unachievable only a few years ago, researchers at the Univeristy of California at San Francisco (UCSF) have pulled aside the curtain on a protein informally known as the "wasabi receptor," revealing at near-atomic resolution structures that could be targeted with anti-inflammatory pain drugs. Officially named TRPA1 (pronounced "trip A1"), the newly visualized protein resides in the cellular membrane of sensory nerve cells. It detects certain chemical agents originating outside our bodies--pungent irritants found in substances ranging from wasabi to tear gas--but is also triggered by pain-inducing signals originating within the body, especially those that arise in response to tissue damage and inflammation. "The pain system is there to warn us when we need to avoid things that can cause injury, but also to enhance protective mechanisms," said David Julius, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of UCSF's Department of Physiology, and co-senior author of the new study, which was published online on April 8, 2015 in Nature. "We've known that TRPA1 is very important in sensing environmental irritants, inflammatory pain, and itch, and so knowing more about how TRPA1 works is important for understanding basic pain mechanisms. Of course, this information may also help guide the design of new analgesic drugs." TRPA1 receptor proteins form pores called ion channels in sensory nerve cell membranes. These channels, normally closed, open in response to certain chemical signals, which allows ions to pass into the cell's interior, triggering a warning impulse. But without knowing enough about the receptor's overall structure to see where a given compound might connect, designing a drug to alleviate pain by controlling the action of the ion channel is something of a shot in the dark. Dr.

First Whole-Genome Sequencing of Mountain Gorillas Reveals Impact of Long-Term Population Decline & Inbreeding; Some Surprisingly Positive Results Found

The first project to sequence whole genomes from mountain gorillas has given scientists and conservationists new insight into the impact of population decline on these critically endangered apes. While mountain gorillas are extensively inbred and at risk of extinction, research published in the April 10, 2015 issue of Science finds more to be optimistic about in their genomes than expected. "Mountain gorillas are among the most intensively studied primates in the wild, but this is the first in-depth, whole-genome analysis," says Dr. Chris Tyler-Smith, corresponding author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "Three years on from sequencing the gorilla reference genome, we can now compare the genomes of all gorilla populations, including the critically endangered mountain gorilla, and begin to understand their similarities and differences, and the genetic impact of inbreeding." The number of mountain gorillas living in the Virunga volcanic mountain range on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo plummeted to approximately 253 in 1981 as a result of habitat destruction and hunting. Since then, conservation efforts led by the Rwanda Development Board and conservation organizations like the Gorilla Doctors (a partnership between the non-profit Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and the University of California at Davis Wildlife Health Center), and supported by tourists keen to see the gorillas made famous by late primatologist Dian Fossey, have bolstered numbers to approximately 480 among the Virunga population.

Shorter Height Genetically Linked to Increased Risk of Coronary Heart Disease; New Study in NEJM Discounts Confounding Factors; 2.5 Inches Shorter, CHD Risk Increases 13.5%

The shorter you are- the more your risk of coronary heart disease. That's the key finding of a new study led by the University of Leicester which discovered that every 2.5 inches change in your height affected your risk of coronary heart disease by 13.5%. For example, compared to a 5’6” tall person, a 5’ tall person on average has a 32% higher risk of coronary heart disease because of their relatively shorter stature. The research, led by Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiology at the University of Leicester, was published online on April 8, 2015 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The research was supported by the British Heart Foundation, The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and others. Professor Samani said: "For more than 60 years it has been known that there is an inverse relationship between height and risk of coronary heart disease. "It is not clear whether this relationship is due to confounding factors such as poor socioeconomic environment, or nutrition, during childhood that on the one hand determine achieved height and on the other the risk of coronary heart disease, or whether it represents a primary relationship between shorter height and more coronary heart disease. "Now, using a genetic approach, researchers at the University of Leicester undertaking the study on behalf of an international consortium of scientists (the CADIoGRAM+C4D consortium) have shown that the association between shorter height and higher risk of coronary heart disease is a primary relationship and is not due to confounding factors." Coronary heart disease is the most common cause of premature death worldwide. It is the condition where the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle (coronary arteries) become narrowed due to a deposition of fatty material (plaque) in the walls of the arteries.