Extend that New Year's energy - to what benefit?

Data from the Center for Health Discovery and Well Being cohort

General-heavy army disastrous in immune battle

Having more helper T cells around is actually no help

Carbohydrates not silent to immune system

A systems bio scan of carbohydrate binding by donor antibodies, facilitated by the Emory glycomics team

Extend that New Year’s energy – to what benefit?

Surveys indicate that many of us make New Year’s resolutions to eat more healthily or exercise more frequently, yet do not sustain the enthusiasm of January throughout the year.

What if the burst of energy and good intentions could be maintained over a longer period, perhaps with the help of a coach? What kinds of health benefits would appear?

Researchers from Emory and Georgia Tech recently published an analysis of the changes in the health profiles in 382 Center for Health Discovery & Well Being participants who completed a one-year evaluation.

The senior author is Greg Gibson, PhD, professor of biology and director of the Center for Integrative Genomics at Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech postdoctoral fellow Rubina Tabassum, now at the University of Helsinki, is the first author.

“What do most people in developed countries need to do? Eat better, exercise more regularly and stress less,” Gibson says. “It’s unclear whether most of the impact comes from the interaction with partners, or simply from participation and goal-setting, but the overall effect is quite good.”

The main points:

*These are “essentially healthy” people — healthier than the general population in the United States – but almost half started out with high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. There was no control group, and not everyone pursued the same exact program. The average age was 48 years and 28 percent of the group was considered obese. That’s less than the United States population as a whole.

*On average, the 382 participants lost a moderate amount of weight (it works out to about three pounds) and saw their blood pressure and LDL-cholesterol go down significantly over that first year (121 to 116 mmHG for systolic BP, 112 to 105 mg/dL for LDL-C). They also reported lower scores for depression and anxiety.

Read more

Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Heart Leave a comment

General-heavy army disastrous in immune battle

Immunologists have identified two big groups of T cells: “helper” CD4+ cells and “killer” CD8+ cells.* The helper cells can produce immune regulatory molecules and promote antibody responses, while the killer cells recognize and destroy virally-infected cells.

A vaccine against a virus that stimulates only helper CD4+ cells leads to uncontrolled lethal inflammation in mice once the animals are challenged with the virus, a recent paper in Science shows. Emory Vaccine Center director Rafi Ahmed is a co-author.

Senior author Dan Barouch, from Harvard/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, tells The Scientist that CD4+ cells are like generals directing the battle of the immune system and “if you just have strategic generals and no soldiers, it turns out to be worse than having no army at all.” Rebalancing the system with antiviral CD8+ T cells or antibodies helps limit the problems.

The findings mesh with work by Yerkes investigators [Guido Silvestri and colleagues] suggesting that HIV vaccines that boost CD4+ cells in gateway mucosal tissues lead to higher rates of infection. In both cases, the lesson is: having more helper CD4+ T cells around actually does not help. Read more

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Carbohydrates not silent to immune system

Donor antibodies, administered intravenously or subcutaneously, make up a commercial product used to treat both immunodeficiencies and inflammatory or auto-immune diseases.

These preparations contain a complex mix of antibodies against glycans, the carbohydrate molecules on the outsides of cells, a Jan. 7 paper in Science Translational Medicine reveals.

At first glance, the findings are remarkable because:

A. Immunologists have long thought that carbohydrates, by themselves, are not good at provoking the immune system. (The assumption was: you need some protein for antigen presentation and getting T cells interested.) The data shows exceptions to the rule.

B. Some of the antibodies react against human carbohydrate structures. Instead of attacking them in an auto-immune fashion, they may actually be blocking viruses or bacteria from using those structures as gateways to infection.

The lab of Stephan von Gunten at the University of Bern collaborated with the National Center for Functional Glycomics led by biochemists Rick Cummings and David Smith at Emory to analyze the spectrum of carbohydrate structures bound by donor antibodies. Read more

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Unexpected mechanism for a longevity lipid

The idea that particular lipid components, such as omega-3 fatty acids, promote health is quite familiar, so the finding that the lipid oleoylethanolamide or OEA extends longevity in the worm C. elegans is perhaps not so surprising. However, a recent paper in Science is remarkable for what it reveals about how OEA exerts its effects.

Scientists at Baylor College of Medicine led by Meng Wang, with some help from biochemists Eric Ortlund and Eric Armstrong at Emory, discovered that OEA is a way one part of the cell, the lysosome, talks to another part, the nucleus. Lysosomes are sort of recycling centers/trash digesters (important for autophagy) and the nucleus is the control tower for the cell. The authors show that starting in lysosomes, OEA travels to the nucleus and activates nuclear hormone receptors (the Ortlund lab’s specialty). Read more

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Max Cooper celebrated in Nature for 50 yrs of B cells

Emory’s Max Cooper was celebrated this week in Nature for his discovery of B cells in the 1960s, while working with Robert Good at the University of Minnesota.

Cooper in Good’s laboratory in the 1960s (source: National Library of Medicine)

B cells are immune cells that display antibodies on their surfaces, and can become antibody-secreting plasma cells. Without B cells: no antibodies to protect us against bacteria and viruses. Where B cells come from, and how they can develop such a broad repertoire of antibody tools, was a major puzzle of 20th century immunology, which Cooper contributed to solving. (See the Nature piece to learn why the “B” comes from the name of an organ in chickens.)

The authors did not mention that Cooper is now at Emory studying lampreys’ immune systems, which are curiously different from those of mammals. The similarities and differences provide insights into the evolution of our immune systems. In addition, scientists here are exploring whether lamprey’s antibody-like molecules might be turned into anticancer drugs.

Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Immunology Leave a comment

Lab Land looking back: Top ten themes for 2014

It is a privilege to work at Emory and learn about and report on so much quality biomedical research. I started to make a top 10 for 2014 and had too many favorites. After diverting some of these topics into the 2015 crystal ball, I corralled them into themes.
1. Cardiac cell therapy
PreSERVE AMI clinical trial led by cardiologist Arshed Quyyumi. Emory investigators developing a variety of approaches to cardiac cell therapy.
2. Mobilizing the body’s own regenerative potential
Ahsan Husain’s work on how young hearts grow. Shan Ping Yu’s lab using parathyroid hormone bone drug to mobilize cells for stroke treatment.
3. Epigenetics
Many colors in the epigenetic palette (hydroxymethylation). Valproate – epigenetic solvent (anti-seizure –> anti-cancer). Methylation in atherosclerosis model (Hanjoong Jo). How to write conservatively about epigenetics and epigenomics.
4. Parkinson’s disease therapeutic strategies
Container Store (Gary Miller, better packaging for dopamine could avoid stress to neurons).
Anti-inflammatory (Malu Tansey, anti-TNF decoy can pass blood-brain barrier).
5. Personal genomics/exome sequencing
Rare disease diagnosis featured in the New Yorker. Three-part series on patient with GRIN2A mutation.
6. Neurosurgeons, like Emory’s Robert Gross and Costas Hadjpanayis, do amazing things
7. Fun vs no fun
Fun = writing about Omar from The Wire in the context of drug discovery.
No fun (but deeply moving) = talking with patients fighting glioblastoma.
8. The hypersomnia field is waking up
Our Web expert tells me this was Lab Land’s most widely read post last year.
9. Fine-tuning approaches to cancer
Image guided cancer surgery (Shuming Nie/David Kooby). Cancer immunotherapy chimera (Jacques Galipeau). Fine tuning old school chemo drug cisplatin (Paul Doetsch)
10. Tie between fructose effects on adolescent brain (Constance Harrell/Gretchen Neigh) and flu immunology (embrace the unfamiliar! Ali Ellebedy/Rafi Ahmed)
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Point mutation in fragile X gene reveals separable functions in brain

A new paper in PNAS from geneticist Steve Warren and colleagues illustrates the complexity of the protein disrupted in fragile X syndrome. It touches on how proposed drug therapies that address one aspect of fragile X syndrome may not be able to compensate for all of them. [For a human side of this story, read/listen to this recent NPR piece from Jon Hamilton.]

Fragile X syndrome is the most common single-gene disorder responsible for intellectual disability. Most patients with fragile X syndrome inherit it because a repetitive stretch of DNA, which is outside the protein-coding portion of the fragile X gene, is larger than usual. The expanded number of CGG repeats silences the entire gene.

However, simple point mutations affecting the fragile X protein are possible in humans as well. In the PNAS paper, Warren’s team describes what happens with a particularly revealing mutation, which allowed researchers to dissect fragile X protein’s multifaceted functions. Read more

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A crystal ball for Lab Land: Top 5 topics in 2015

Alzheimer’s protein pathology

While a wise Dane once proposed that predictions are dangerous, especially concerning the future, it’s usually helpful to plan ahead. Here are five biomedical research topics we think will occupy our attention in 2015.

1. Alzheimer’s We’re hearing discordant music coming from Alzheimer’s researchers. Large pharmaceutical companies are shutting down clinical trials in frustration, but researchers keep coming forward with biomarkers that might predict future disease. This confusing situation calls for some new thinking. Allan Levey, Jim Lah and colleagues have been preparing the way for a “beyond the usual suspects” look at Alzheimer’s disease. We are looking forward to Levey’s appearance at the 2015 AAAS meeting and to drug discovery wizard Keqiang Ye’s continuing work on new therapeutic targets.

2. Ebola While the scare over Ebola in the United States may be over (we hope so!), the outbreak continues to devastate countries in West Africa. Clinical trials testing vaccines and experimental drugs are underway or will be soon. Read more

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Stem cell/cardiology researcher Hee Cheol Cho joins Emory

Please welcome stem cell/cardiology researcher Hee Cheol Cho to Emory. Starting in September, Cho joined the Wallace H Counter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory, and Emory-Children’s Pediatric Research Center. He and his team will focus on developing gene-and cell-based therapies for cardiac arrhythmias. Their research will adding to and complement the research of several groups, such as those led by Chunhui Xu, Young-sup Yoon, Mike Davis and W. Robert Taylor.

Cho comes from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he specialized in understanding cardiac pacemaker cells, a small group of muscle cells in the sinoatrial node of the heart that initiate cardiac contraction. These cells have specialized electrophysiological properties, and much has been learned in the last few years about the genes that control their development.

Cho and colleagues from Cedars-Sinai recently published a paper in Stem Cell Reports describing how the gene SHOX2 can nudge embryonic stem cells into becoming cardiac pacemaker cells. Read more

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Connections between starvation and immunological memory

Researchers at Emory have been revealing several connections between cells’ responses to starvation and immunological memory. The latest example of this is a paper in Nature Immunology from Rafi Ahmed’s lab, showing that the cellular process of autophagy (literally: self-consumption) is essential for forming and maintaining memory T cells.

This finding has some practical implications for vaccination and could point the way to additives that could boost vaccine effectiveness in elderly humans. Researchers at Oxford have demonstrated that autophagy is diminished in T cells from aged mice, and T cell responses could be boosted in older mice using the autophagy-inducing compound spermidine. Read more

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