Biomedical Beat - A monthly digest of research news from NIGMS

IN THIS ISSUE . . .
December 16, 2009

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The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), one of the National Institutes of Health, supports all research featured in this digest. Although only the lead scientists are named, coworkers and other collaborators also contributed to the findings. To read additional news items, visit NIGMS News, Twitter or Facebook. To check out free NIGMS publications, go to the order form.

Cool Movie: Dancing Chromosomes

Courtesy of the Dernburg lab, University of California, Berkeley.

In this movie clip, chromosomes in a C. elegans worm look like they're dancing as the cells start to undergo meiosis. Each cell contains a mix of chromosomes (red) from the mother and the father that need to match up before the cell can divide into sperm or eggs. The green areas show where chromosomes have latched on to the nuclear wall. The cell's cytoskeleton then leads them around the nuclear dance floor until each mom chromosome meets its dad equivalent. When they do, they clasp themselves together and swap a set of genes. Then they part once more. Courtesy of the Dernburg lab, University of California, Berkeley.

Full story
Lab profile
Article abstract (from the November 25 issue of Cell)

Countering Pain Reliever Overdose

Chemical structure of the pain reliever acetaminophen.
Chemical structure of the pain reliever acetaminophen.
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Acetaminophen, a pain reliever found in many over-the-counter cold and flu medicines, is one of the leading causes of liver failure. At recommended doses, the body breaks it down just fine. But when exceeding these levels, severe liver damage may occur. In mice, geneticist Gary Peltz at Stanford University School of Medicine and his team looked for genes that could counter acetaminophen toxicity. They identified an enzyme that converted an herbal medicine called Vitamin U and prevented acetaminophen-induced liver damage in animal studies. Until clinical trials confirm the results in humans, Peltz cautions against taking the vitamin to protect against acetaminophen overdose.

NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases also supported this work.

Full story
Article abstract (from the November 18 online issue of Genome Research)

Copper Stopper

The molecular structure of TM (red) and its bound copper chaperones (green and yellow). Courtesy of Yi Xue.
The molecular structure of TM (red) and its bound copper chaperones (green and yellow). Courtesy of Yi Xue.
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Researchers don't know exactly how, but a drug called tetrathiomolybdate—TM for short—reduces copper levels in people who have too much. Now, a group led by Northwestern University chemist Thomas V. O'Halloran has determined the molecular structure of TM at the moment it acts. In test tube experiments, they found that TM grabs chaperone proteins that carry copper around in cells. TM then chemically weaves the chaperones together to inactivate them along with the copper. The discovery could lead to new or better drugs for disorders involving excess copper and for cancers that need copper to sprout nutrient-supplying blood vessels.

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O'Halloran lab
Article abstract (from the November 26 online issue of Science)

Veggie Substance May Forestall Disease

Cruciferous vegetables contain high levels of thiocyanate, a substance that might help ward off many diseases.
Cruciferous vegetables contain high levels of thiocyanate, a substance that might help ward off many diseases.

Here's another reason to eat your veggies—they might delay or minimize inflammation-related diseases like cystic fibrosis, diabetes, heart disease and neurodegeneration. That's according to work by physiologist Zhe Lu and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Lu's group discovered that thiocyanate, a substance abundant in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, protects cells throughout the body from toxic chemicals the immune system uses to fight infections. The toxins can damage healthy tissues and contribute to many diseases. The research also may provide a molecular explanation for why cystic fibrosis patients face escalating damage to their lungs and digestive system.

Full story
Lu profile
Article abstract (from the December 1 issue of PNAS)

Dynamic Duo Silences Bacterial Killers

Bacteria, like the Streptococcus shown here, have a built-in defense system to protect against viruses. Courtesy of Tina Carvalho, University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Bacteria, like the Streptococcus shown here, have a built-in defense system to protect against viruses. Courtesy of Tina Carvalho, University of Hawaii at Manoa.
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Like humans, bacteria are vulnerable to potentially fatal viral infections. But also like us, they have a built-in defense system that helps protect them from viral invaders. Biochemists led by Rebecca and Michael Terns of the University of Georgia now have shown that the bacterial defense system consists of two dynamic parts: bacterial RNA that recognize and physically bind the viral target molecule, and slicing proteins that destroy the target and silence the virus. This knowledge of the bacterial defense system could lead to new classes of antibiotics and new ways to stabilize bacterial cultures used in food and biotechnology industries.

Full story
Terns lab
Article abstract: (from the November 25 issue of Cell)