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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.

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In This Issue... April 19, 2012

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Protein complex (yellow), DNA (red and blue) and activating protein (green)

Cool Image: Origin Recognition Complex

Huilin Li • Brookhaven National Laboratory
Bruce Stillman • Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Before any cell can divide, it must copy its DNA so there will be a complete set of genes to pass on to the new cells. The process starts at defined DNA sites called origins of replication. To find these sites, cells use a protein machine called the "origin recognition complex," or ORC. In its simplest form, the ORC starts as crescent-shaped protein complex (yellow). It wraps around and bends the DNA (red and blue). When an activating protein (green) joins the ORC, the ORC is ready to load the protein that will unwind the double-stranded DNA and further enable replication. These details may answer fundamental questions about the replication process and how errors can lead to disease. Read more... Link to external Website

New Computer Algorithm for Investigating Adverse Drug Events

Russ Altman • Stanford University School of Medicine

Taking a medication can cause unexpected side effects. Increase the number of medications, and the potential for adverse drug events increases. Now, a new computer algorithm might help physicians better tailor prescriptions and scientists better understand a medicine's biological effects on the body. Using data from the FDA's Adverse Events Reporting System, researchers sifted through millions of reports, analyzed similarities among people taking a particular medication and then predicted previously unidentified side effects and drug interactions. The work has resulted in two publicly available databases for others to investigate adverse drug events. Read more... (no longer available)

NIH's National Library of Medicine also supported this work.

Caption: New databases could help predict unidentified drug side effects and interactions.
The human kappa opioid receptor resting in a poppy. Credit: Yekaterina Kadyshevskaya.

Structure Shows How Key Opioid Receptor Works

Raymond Stevens • The Scripps Research Institute

If you're in a good mood today, you may have your opioid receptors to thank, at least in part. These molecules lie in brain cell membranes and help control mood by binding to neurotransmitters like endorphins, the body's natural pain killers. They also mediate the pain-killing and mood-altering effects of morphine, heroin and related drugs. New snapshots of one of these receptors, the kappa opioid receptor, have provided scientists with close-up views of the molecule. The structure offers insights on how the receptor works and could pave the way for the design of new pain and addiction medicines.
Read more... Link to external Website

NIH's Common Fund, National Institute of Mental Health and National Institute on Drug Abuse also supported this work.

Caption: The human kappa opioid receptor shown resting in a poppy, a natural source of opium. Credit: Yekaterina Kadyshevskaya. High res. image (JPG, 172KB)
The topological structure of geobacillin. Credit: Wilfred van der Donk.

New Antibiotic May Help Treat Foodborne and Other Illness

Wilfred van der Donk • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Nisin, a naturally occurring antibiotic found in cow's milk, has been used for more than 40 years to safely prevent food-borne diseases by killing a wide range of bacteria. Unfortunately, its chemical properties that make it unstable under certain conditions have restricted its use for broader food and pharmaceutical applications. Researchers have isolated a molecule, which they call geobacillin, that looks and functions like nisin but that is more stable. If experimental tests with the new antibiotic continue to go well, geobacillin may find greater medicinal use for treating foodborne and other bacteria-causing diseases. Read more... Link to external Website

Caption: The topological structure of geobacillin. Credit: Wilfred van der Donk. High res. image (JPG, 33KB)

Greener Chemistry Helping to Save the Planet

This Earth Day, know that researchers are devising methods to manufacture drugs with less impact on the environment. To reduce the need for toxic materials, some scientists are using water as a solvent during chemical synthesis. One researcher is designing microbes to produce antimalarial and HIV drugs. Others have found ways to speed up drug synthesis by using metals like copper as a catalyst. By greening their methods, chemists may help save the planet, as well as manufacture drugs in larger quantities and at a lower cost. Read more...

Caption: Scientists are designing environmentally-friendly chemical methods.

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This page last reviewed on April 19, 2011