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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... May 17, 2012

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Potassium ions (purple dots) move through an ion channel protein (coiled structure). Image courtesy of Yu Zhou.

Cool Image: Disordered with a Purpose

Christopher Lingle • Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Potassium ions (purple dots) move through the narrow opening of an ion channel protein (coiled structure) to produce electrical signals and enable cellular communication. A flexible segment of the protein that's disordered—or lacks a defined structure—temporarily blocks the passage of electrical signals after one is fired by nestling into a specific binding site. Because a protein's 3-dimensional shape determines its function, it's intriguing that an unstructured piece of one—and potentially many others—has certain tasks, too. This ion channel work could help explain why and also lead to novel ways to treat channel-related disorders, such as epilepsy, asthma and Parkinson's disease. Image courtesy of Yu Zhou. Read more... Link to external Website
RvD5, white blood cells (red) and E. coli bacteria (green). Credit: Jesmond Dalli, Nan Chiang, Charles Serhan.

Natural Molecules Fight Infection While Limiting Collateral Damage

Charles Serhan • Brigham and Women's Hospital

When you get an infection, the inflammatory response helps clear the invading pathogens. The body needs to carefully limit the response, because excessive inflammation can damage healthy tissues. New research reveals one way the body keeps inflammation in check. Scientists discovered that mice infected with bacteria produce natural molecules called resolvins and protectins that not only stem inflammation, but also stimulate the body's bacteria-engulfing white blood cells. Their study also showed that the molecules enhanced the effectiveness of antibiotics—a discovery that could ultimately translate into reduced use of these medicines and slower spread of resistant organisms.
Read more... Link to external Website

Caption: A natural molecule, RvD5, stimulates white blood cells (red) to engulf E. coli bacteria (green). Credit: Jesmond Dalli, Nan Chiang, Charles Serhan. High res. image (JPG, 20KB)
Protein-protein interaction and the computer-designed molecule (blue) that blocks the interaction. Credit: Bruce Donald.

Computer Algorithms Aid Search for Cystic Fibrosis Drugs

Bruce R. Donald • Duke University

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disorder that leads to chronic lung infections. Gene mutations alter a protein that regulates salt and water levels, causing the protein to be degraded by recycling proteins in the cell at much higher rates. Less of the protein leads to mucus buildup in the lungs and pancreas. To help find new CF treatment options, scientists developed computer algorithms to search for and identify molecules that could slow the degradation process. They synthesized the most promising ones and then tested them in human cell cultures. Early results look promising, and the research team has made its software freely available to help speed progress. Read more... Link to external Website

This work also was supported by NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Caption: This graphic shows the protein-protein interaction that damages cells in cystic fibrosis and the computer-designed molecule (blue) that blocks the interaction. Credit: Bruce Donald. High res. image (JPG, 62KB)
Illustration of a human silhouette and GACTs. Credit: National Human Genome Research Institute.

Pygmy Genome Study Gives Clues on Adaptive Evolution

Sarah Tishkoff • University of Pennsylvania

Many populations have evolved over time to adapt to distinct environmental conditions. Recently, researchers analyzed the DNA of West African Pygmies and neighboring Bantus to uncover genetic regions that showed signs of positive selection. The scientists discovered a number of such regions, including a segment that contained two genes associated with stature and other regions with genes that possibly favored local adaptation at various points in the history of the Pygmy population. These findings offer new insights that may help scientists decipher the complex genetic basis of certain traits and the risk of certain diseases. Read more... Link to external Website

This work also was supported by NIH's Office of the Director and National Institute of Mental Health.

Caption: Genomic studies could offer new insights on human genes, including those linked to disease. Credit: NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute.
Nanoparticles. Credit: J. Manuel Perez.

Using Nanotechnology to Detect Disease-Causing Pathogens

J. Manuel Perez • University of Central Florida

Bacterial infections cause major health problems worldwide, and the ability to quickly detect the pathogens underlying them would facilitate diagnosis and treatment. A new rapid nanoparticle technique could help. Scientists created hybridizing magnetic relaxation nanosensors (hMRS) that bind to a pathogen's unique DNA sequence. The sensors emit signals that researchers can use to detect the pathogen in a patient sample. In an initial study, the researchers used hMRS to identify the pathogen responsible for Crohn's disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease in humans. Read more... Link to external Website

Caption: The nanoparticles shown here are being used to detect pathogens better and faster than current methods. Credit: J. Manuel Perez. High res. image (JPG, 56KB)

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For more information about Biomedical Beat, please contact the editor, Emily Carlson, in the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at 301-496-7301. The text in this newsletter is not copyrighted, and we encourage its use or reprinting.

This page last reviewed on May 17, 2011