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Archive - Sep 18, 2017

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New Lung Cell Type Identified; Finding May Lead to New, Non-Traditional Approaches to Treating Pneumonia and Chronic Lung Diseases

A recent study has identified a new lung cell type that is implicated in the body's innate immune defense against the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae--one of the leading causes of pneumonia worldwide. The findings, which were published online on September 18, 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, may lead to new, non-traditional approaches in the fight against pneumonia and chronic lung diseases. The article is titled “Expression of Piwi Protein MIWI2 Defines a Distinct Population of Multiciliated cells.” There are two classifications of cells in the human body: germ cells that are used to make sperm and eggs and somatic cells that make up every other cell in the body including lung cells. There are widespread differences between germ cells and somatic cells underscoring their markedly different roles in human biology. It was previously thought that the MIWI2 gene was only expressed in male germ cells as part of a family of genes that ensure the proper development of sperm. However, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have discovered that, not only is the same gene expressed in somatic cells in the body, but it also marks a distinct population of multi-ciliated cells that line the upper airways of the lung. "These ciliated cells have hair-like projections that function to sweep mucus and other foreign material out of the lung. However, what sets this new population of ciliated cells apart is that they express the MIWI2 protein and in this report, were found to have a specialized role in controlling lung infection," explains corresponding author Matthew Jones, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at BUSM.

BOOK REVIEW—"Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus”

The objective of David Quammen’s book, “Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus” (published October 20, 2014) is stated clearly in the introduction section as “to place the 2014 West Africa outbreak […] within a broader context that makes sense of those mysteries and their partial solutions. My offering here is merely a partial view of the history and science of Ebola” (Quammen, p. 2). Quammen then continues to explain that he did not have a traumatizing experience of losing his loved ones as many have, but did travel through “Ebola habitat” and became very close friends with two men who experienced the horrible realities of the Ebola virus. Quammen uses anecdotes to educate his readers regarding the Ebola virus and similar viruses, such as the Marburg virus for example. In the beginning of the book, Quammen tells about the outbreak in the village of Mayibout 2 in Gabon, Africa, where 18 people mysteriously acquired an illness and quickly died. The original victim had eaten a chimpanzee that was found dead and rotting in the forest, and was then prepared traditionally to eat. Because chimps suffer from the virus and die quickly, as do humans infected with Ebola virus, neither we nor the chimps are the reservoir host. Finding the reservoir host is a great interest of many scientists and public health officials around the world. Another strategy Quammen used to explain the Ebola virus outbreak was comparing it with outbreaks of the Marburg virus, which causes a very similar disease that was recognized about nine years before Ebola. Both viruses are filamentous, lethal RNA viruses and appeared “twisty” to scientists in the labs. Ebola virus had many outbreaks throughout the years starting in 1976. Many research experiments were conducted, most of which were unsuccessful, attempting to isolate the Ebola virus.

Dogs’ Social Skills Linked to Oxytocin Sensitivity

The tendency of dogs to seek contact with their owners is associated with genetic variations in sensitivity for the hormone oxytocin, according to a new study from Linköping University, Sweden. The results have been published in Hormones and Behavior and contribute to our knowledge of how dogs have changed during their development from wolf to household pet. The article is titled “Intranasal Oxytocin and a Polymorphism in the Oxytocin Receptor Gene Are Associated with Human-Directed Social Behavior in Golden Retriever Dogs.” During their domestication from their wild ancestor the wolf to the pets we have today, dogs have developed a unique ability to work together with humans. One aspect of this is their willingness to “ask for help” when faced with a problem that seems to be too difficult. There are, however, large differences between breeds, and between dogs of the same breed. A research group in Linköping, led by Professor Per Jensen, has discovered a possible explanation of why dogs differ in their willingness to collaborate with humans. The researchers suspected that the hormone oxytocin was involved. It is well-known that oxytocin plays a role in social relationships between individuals, in both humans and animals. The effect of oxytocin depends on the function of the structure that it binds to, the receptor, in the cell. Previous studies have suggested, among other things, that differences in dogs’ ability to communicate are associated with variations in the genetic material located close to the gene that codes for the oxytocin receptor. The researchers in the present study examined 60 golden retrievers as they attempted to solve a previously insoluble problem. “The first step was to teach the dogs to open a lid, and in this way, get hold of a treat.