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Tick Exosomes May Aid Transmission of Viruses to Vertebrates

Scientists have shown for the first time that exosomes from tick cells can aid transmission of viral proteins and genetic material from arthropod to vertebrate host cells, according to research published on January 4, 2018 in PLOS Pathogens. The open-access article is titled “Exosomes Serve As Novel Modes of Tick-Borne Flavivirus Transmission from Arthropod to Human Cells and Facilitates Dissemination of Viral RNA and Proteins to the Vertebrate Neuronal Cells.” When ticks (Ixodes scapularis species; commonly known as deer ticks) bite humans or other vertebrates, they can transmit dangerous, brain-infecting viruses in the Flaviviridae viral family, such as tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV). However, the mechanisms underlying transmission of Flaviviridae from tick to vertebrate host are poorly understood. Previous studies have shown that some other pathogens use exosomes--tiny, membrane-bound spheres released from cells--to facilitate transmission and infection. Dr. Hameeda Sultana of Old Dominion University, Virginia, and colleagues hypothesized that tick-borne Flaviviridae viruses may use similar techniques. To investigate this hypothesis, the researchers infected cells from an Ixodes scapularis-derived cell line (ISE6) with tick-borne Langat virus (LGTV), which is closely related to TBEV but safer for laboratory work. Using cryo-electron microscopy, they showed that infected tick cells indeed produced exosomes, and further investigation showed that these contained LGTV RNA and proteins. Additional experiments using human and vertebrate cell lines revealed more about the role of exosomes in LGTV transmission. LGTV-carrying tick exosomes were able to infect keratinocytes, cells found at the outermost layer of human skin and human blood endothelial cells.

NIH Will Launch Hugely Ambitious “All of Us” Research Program on May 6; Program Seeks to Enroll One Million Volunteers from Diverse & Traditionally Under-Represented Backgrounds to Participate in Innovative Effort to Advance Precision Medicine

On Sunday, May 6, 2018, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will open national enrollment for the All of Us Research Program (https://www.joinallofus.org/en) a momentous effort to advance individualized prevention, treatment, and care for people of all backgrounds. People ages 18 and older, regardless of health status, will be able to enroll. The official launch date will be marked by community events (https://launch.joinallofus.org/) in seven cities across the country, as well as an online event. Volunteers will join more than 25,000 participants already enrolled in All of Us as part of a year-long beta test to prepare for the program’s national launch. The overall aim is to enroll 1 million or more volunteers and over-sample communities that have been underrepresented in research to make the program the largest, most diverse resource of its kind. “All of Us is an ambitious project that has the potential to revolutionize how we study disease and medicine,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. “NIH’s unprecedented effort will lay the scientific foundation for a new era of personalized, highly effective health care. We look forward to working with people of all backgrounds to take this major step forward for our nation’s health.” Precision medicine is an emerging approach to disease treatment and prevention that considers differences in people’s lifestyles, environments, and biological makeup, including genes. With eyeglasses and hearing aids, we have long had customized solutions to individual needs. More recently, treating certain types of cancer is now possible with therapies targeted to patients’ DNA. Still, there are many unanswered questions leaving individuals, their families, their communities, and the health care community without good options.

Algorithms Applied to EEG Results for Infants Accurately Predict Risk of Autism Spectrum DIsorder; “Stunning” Results May Provide Basis for Early Intervention

Autism is challenging to diagnose, especially early in life. A new study published online on May 1, 2018 in Scientific Reports shows that inexpensive EEGs, which measure brain electrical activity, accurately predict or rule out autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in infants, even in some as young as 3 months. The open-access article is titled “EEG Analytics for Early Detection of Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Data-Driven Approach.” "EEGs are low-cost, non-invasive and relatively easy to incorporate into well-baby checkups," says Charles Nelson, PhD, Director of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's Hospital and co-author of the study. "Their reliability in predicting whether a child will develop autism raises the possibility of intervening very early, well before clear behavioral symptoms emerge. This could lead to better outcomes and perhaps even prevent some of the behaviors associated with ASD." The study analyzed data from the Infant Sibling Project (now called the Infant Screening Project), a collaboration between Boston Children's Hospital and Boston University that seeks to map early development and identify infants at risk for developing ASD and/or language and communication difficulties. William Bosl, PhD, Associate Professor of Health Informatics and Clinical Psychology at the University of San Francisco, also affiliated with the Computational Health Informatics Program (CHIP) at Boston Children's Hospital, has been working for close to a decade on algorithms to interpret EEG signals, the familiar squiggly lines generated by electrical activity in the brain. Dr. Bosl's research suggests that even an EEG that appears normal contains "deep" data that reflect brain function, connectivity patterns, and structure that can be found only with computer algorithms. The Infant Screening Project provided Dr.

Low Levels of Vasopressin Hormone in Cerebrospinal Fluid Possible Biomarker for Low Sociability Seen in Autism Spectrum Disorder

One of the characteristics of children with autism spectrum disorder is reduced social ability. It's difficult to study the possible causes of social impairment in children, but a new study shows that rhesus macaques with low sociability also had low levels of the peptide vasopressin in cerebrospinal fluid, as did children with autism spectrum disorder. The study, by researchers at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) at the University of California (UC), Davis and Stanford University, was published online on May 2, 2018 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The article is titled “Arginine Vasopressin in Cerebrospinal Fluid Is a Marker of Sociality in Nonhuman Primates.” "At this point, we consider vasopressin concentrations to be a biomarker for low sociability," said John Capitanio, PhD, Professor of Psychology at UC Davis and a research scientist at the CNPRC. Dr. Capitanio studies the interplay between social behavior and health. Over several years, his team has assessed rhesus macaque monkeys born at the Center for sociability. The Center maintains large field corrals where the macaques live in extended large family groups with the same hierarchies and social behavior that they show in the wild.nAbout fifteen percent of the animals are classed as "low social": they spend less time interacting with others than most macaques. Dr. Capitanio has previously studied how this natural variation affects the course of infectious disease. Professor Karen Parker at the Stanford Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, principal investigator on the project, is interested in why children with autism spectrum disorder have deficits in social ability.

Designer Peptoids Mimic Surfactant Proteins & Reduce Surface Tension in the Lungs, Restoring Breathing Capacity in Injured Lungs in Rat Model—Results “Open Up New Frontiers”

A Stanford University researcher has bioengineered an effective protein mimic that restored breathing capacity to the injured lungs of rats, according to a new study. This synthetic product could lead to better, cheaper treatments for acute lung injury in humans. When used in the rats, it equaled or outperformed a costly animal-derived counterpart in several physiological measures, the study said. A paper describing the research was published online May 1 in Scientific Reports. The open-access article is titled “Effective in vivo treatment of acute lung injury with helical, amphipathic peptoid mimics of pulmonary surfactant proteins. Imagine the force you'd need to blow up a balloon whose surface area nearly matched that of a tennis court. Imagine further that the balloon has a pocked, moist inner surface and is made of exquisitely delicate material. That balloon is your lungs, and every breath you take is a miracle. What makes it possible is a thin coating of a soap-like film, or surfactant, that lowers the tension of the lung's inner surface, radically reducing the amount of force required to inhale. Without this surfactant, you couldn't breathe. "Lung surfactant is endowed with amazing biological properties," said Annelise Barron (photo), PhD, Associate Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford. "The key to this is the presence, in the surfactant, of two special proteins whose structures uniquely enable them to cut surface tension." But those same amazing structural properties, she said, also make these proteins difficult to synthesize and purify, and relatively unstable in solution, limiting shelf-life and increasing price. "One of them contains the most hydrophobic, or fat-resembling, stretch of chemical constituents of all known human proteins," Dr. Barron said.

New Technique for Detecting AMPK Levels Could Help Improve Treatment for Diabetes & Obesity

San Francisco State University researchers have discovered a new method for testing levels of a tiny, but hugely important, protein -- "AMPK" -- in human muscle cells. "AMPK (5' AMP-activated protein kinase) is the gas gauge that tells each cell in your body if your fuel is too low. We call it the energy sensor of the cell," said Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Jimmy Bagley. Muscles make up 30 to 40 percent of our bodies and are the largest users of sugar and fat for energy. But if people have too much stored fuel -- if they are obese or not exercising, for example -- AMPK is not activated and the body doesn't regulate blood sugar the way it should. Dr. Bagley and his colleagues at the Center for Sport Performance at California State University (CSU) at Fullerton are the first to test the new method on human muscle cells. Their innovative technique was was published online on April 12, 2018 in the Journal of Applied Physiology. The article Is titled “Fiber Type-Specific Analysis of AMPK Isoforms in Human Skeletal Muscle: Advancement in Methods Via Capillary Nanoimmunoassay.” Using human muscle fiber samples provided by Stanford University and CSU Fullerton, researchers in Dr. Bagley's Muscle Physiology Laboratory at San Francisco State manually isolate single muscle fibers, each about half the size of a human hair. With custom microscopes, tweezers, and chemical solutions, they determine fiber type and prepare each cell for protein analysis. They then deliver the cells to CSU Fullerton, where the protein is analyzed using a new machine called Protein Simple. "We can tell what's happening with the AMPK protein in individual muscle cells with a high level of precision," said Dr. Bagley. The new method allows researchers to isolate and examine muscle fibers in much greater detail than was possible before.

Horses Can Read and Remember People’s Emotional Expressions, and Can Adapt Their Behavior Accordingly

A study by the Universities of Sussex and Portsmouth in the UK reveals that horses can read and then remember people's emotional expressions, enabling them to use this information to identify people who could pose a potential threat. Published on April 26, 2018, in Current Biology, the paper “Animals Remember Previous Facial Expressions That Specific Humans Have Exhibited” is authored by a team of psychologists, co-led by Professor Karen McComb, from the University of Sussex, and Dr. Leanne Proops, from the University of Portsmouth - both specialists in animal behavior. The research team conducted controlled experiments in which domestic horses were presented with a photograph of an angry or happy human face and several hours later saw the actual person who had exhibited the expression, now in an emotionally neutral state. This short-term exposure to the photograph of a person's facial expression was enough to generate clear differences in subsequent responses upon meeting that individual in the flesh later the same day. The study found that despite the humans being in a neutral state during the live meeting, the horses' gaze direction revealed that they perceived the person more negatively if they had previously seen them looking angry in the photograph rather than happy. Previous research, including at University of Sussex, has shown that animals tend to view negative events with their left eye due to the right brain hemisphere's specialization for processing threatening stimuli (information from the left eye is processed in the right hemisphere). Importantly, in the current experiment, the humans did not know which photographs the horses had previously seen, to avoid any risk of behaving differently themselves.

Increasing Number of Added NK Cells Boosts Effectiveness of Combined Cell Therapy & Virotherapy for Treating Cancer

Doctors could be a step closer to finding the most effective way to treat cancer with a double whammy of a virus combined with boosting the natural immune system, according to a pioneering study by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and The Ohio State University. "The findings of this research are very exciting because it helps unravel the complex yin and yang relationship between the natural cancer-fighting power intrinsic to our immune system and externally added cancer-killing cells that are given as a therapy. It's very significant because it shows, contrary to recent scientific claims, that virotherapy can be combined with cell therapy for a positive effect," said the study's corresponding author Balveen Kaur, PhD, Professor and Vice Chair of Research in the Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Previous scientific wisdom has discredited combining virotherapy and externally added natural killer (NK) cell therapy to the body's NK cells, but there could be clear cancer-fighting benefits – if sufficient external NK cells are deployed to destroy the tumor and stop its spread, as revealed in the paper that was published online on April 23, 2018 in PNAS. The article is titled “Complex Role of NK Cells in Regulation of Oncolytic Virus–Bortezomib Therapy.” To reach this conclusion, physicians devised a mathematical formula unlocking the complex interactive relationship between externally introduced viruses and NK cells in addition to the immune system's existing NK cells to calculate cancer cell-killing potency. The mathematical modeling was able to predict how a virus-treated tumor would respond to NK cell therapy, depending on the number of NK cells introduced to the tumor.

Tolerance Mechanisms May Be Key to Virus Resistance in Bats

Scientists examining the genome of Egyptian fruit bats, a natural reservoir for the deadly Marburg virus, have identified several immune-related genes that suggest bats deal with viral infections in a substantially different way than primates. Their research, published online on April 26, 2016 Cell, demonstrates that bats may be able to host viruses that are pathogenic in humans by tolerating--rather than overcoming--the infection. The article is titled “The Egyptian Rousette Genome Reveals Unexpected Features of Bat Antiviral Immunity.” Bats are known to harbor many viruses, including several that cause disease in humans, without demonstrating symptoms. To identify differences between antiviral mechanisms in humans and bats, the research team sequenced, assembled, and analyzed the genome of Rousettus aegyptiacus, the Egyptian fruit bat--a natural reservoir of Marburg virus and the only known reservoir for any filovirus. Jonathan Towner, PhD, of the Viral Special Pathogens Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provided the bats from which the DNA was extracted. Dr. Towner had traveled to Uganda to investigate the colony of Egyptian fruit bats implicated in a Marburg fatality there. "Using that DNA, we generated the most contiguous bat genome to date and used it to understand the evolution of immune genes and gene families in bats. This is classical comparative immunology and a good example of the link between basic and applied sciences," explained co-senior author Gustavo Palacios, PhD, who heads the Center for Genome Sciences at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). In the process, Dr. Palacios and colleagues at the CDC and Boston University made some striking findings.

44 Genetic Risk Factors Identified for Major Depression

A global research project has mapped out the genetic basis of major depression, identifying 44 genetic variants which are risk factors for depression, 30 of which are newly discovered. The study, by the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, and co-led in the UK by King's College London, is the largest study to-date of genetic risk factors for major depression. Published online on April 26, 2018 in Nature Genetics, the research finds that the genetic basis for major depression is shared with other psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, and that all humans carry at least some of the 44 genetic risk factors identified in the study. The article is titled “Genome-Wide Association Analyses Identify 44 Risk Variants and Refine the Genetic Architecture of Major Depression.” A significant number of the genetic variants identified in the study are directly linked to the targets of current antidepressant medications. Analysis of the data also suggests that having a higher body mass index (BMI) is linked to an increased risk of major depression. Previous studies have struggled to identify more than a handful of genetic variants associated with depression. By combining seven separate datasets, the research team included data on more than 135,000 people with major depression and more than 344,000 controls. The study was an unprecedented global effort by over 200 scientists who work with the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, and was led by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the University of Queensland in Australia. Professor Cathryn Lewis and Dr. Gerome Breen of King's College London led the UK contribution, along with scientists and psychiatrists from the Universities of Edinburgh, Cardiff, and University College London (UCL).

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