Excerpts from Recent Articles from 2010

2010 Back Issues

throb - December 2010
Many of us are acquainted with headaches. Brought on by lack of sleep, a lot of alcohol, too many tears, the time of month, or even the time of year, clammy weather, overbearing noise – you name it – headaches are a pretty common ailment many of us put up with on a regular basis. What is more, there are many painkillers on the market which are able to wipe away the symptoms within a matter of minutes. Migraines, however, are another piece of cake. The same environmental factors may trigger off a migraine but the symptoms are far more severe, frequently causing those suffering from one to remain bedridden until the pain has gone. Needless to say, headaches like migraines have no doubt been mankind's lot since our appearance on this planet, but what is responsible for the rhythmic thump inside our heads? There are two theories. One says that it all has to do with blood circulation. The second says that it’s because of our neurons. Recently, scientists discovered a protein, known as TRESK, that seems to be directly involved in causing migraines. TRESK takes part in neuronal communication, thereby supporting the second theory. (PDF version - 303K bytes)
UniProt cross references
TWIK-related individual potassium channel, Homo sapiens (Human) : Q7Z418
Potassium channel subfamily K member 18, Mus musculus (Mouse) : Q6VV64
love, love, love... - November 2010
You need two humans for romantic love. That sounds straightforward enough. But you also need chemistry, as in chemical processes. It is an uncomfortable thought in a society where freewill is all the rage. Yet any of our feelings need a basis on which to work upon. And that is our brain with all its neuronal circuits and neurotransmitters that are being continuously fired from one neuron to another, sending messages of fright, anguish, enthusiasm, sadness, despair, love and surprise to name but a few. So what would be the chemistry at the heart of romantic love? Serotonin. Perhaps… With a notion as ungraspable as love, it is a very tricky business to try and pin it down to the makings of one molecule. Yet that is what a team of scientists tried to do. Their research hypothesis is particularly intriguing: they compared the infatuation we all experience in the early stages of love with a form of obsessive-compulsive behaviour. (PDF version - 76K bytes)
UniProt cross references
Sodium-dependent serotonin transporter, Homo sapiens (Human) : P31645
life's first breath - October 2010
We give very little thought to the first breath we took as we entered this side of reality, and yet it was one of the most traumatic experiences we have ever been through. So much so, it is probably not such a bad thing that we have no – conscious – recollection of it. Each one of us spent the most part of nine months floating in amniotic fluid inside our mother, with oxygen being pumped into us via the umbilical cord. Once born, the umbilical cord is taken away from us and we have to find another way of providing our body with oxygen. Fast. That’s when the tiny newborn – that we all were – starts using its airways which, up to that point, had been on standby. Something, however, has to boost them into action. Recently, researchers discovered the doings of a protein, known as ‘teashirt homolog 3’, which has shown that it most probably has a direct role in life’s first breath - not in sparking it off but in preparing the grounds to welcome oxygen and deliver it to every part of our body. (PDF version - 61K bytes)
UniProt cross references
Teashirt homolog 3, Mus musculus (Mouse) : Q8CGV9
Teashirt homolog 3, Homo sapiens (Human) : Q63HK5
Teashirt homolog 3, Rattus norvegicus (Rat) : D3ZKB9
the matchmaker - September 2010
The smallest of things can have drastic consequences. A rash gesture. A reckless statement. A moment’s hesitation. Likewise, the smallest of chemical changes can be the cause of serious afflictions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, cystic fibrosis or haemophilia. Noonan syndrome is one such affliction and affects a newborn in one to two thousand. Typically, a Noonan child has a wide space between its eyes, is web-necked and small in stature. Unfortunately, the condition is also associated with congenital heart disease, learning problems, impaired blood clotting as well as many other features whose range and severity vary hugely in patients. Everyday, a child is born with Noonan syndrome, and one of the culprits is the tiniest of modifications which occurs on a protein known as SHOC2. (PDF version - 72K bytes)
UniProt cross references
Leucine-rich repeat protein SHOC-2, Homo sapiens (Human) : Q9UQ13
more to it than meets the finger - August 2010
There is a huge cucumber growing in the middle of our lawn. I paid it a visit the other day, pushing aside the huge leaves, and in so doing got stung on the tips of my fingers. I knew the sting came from the small hairs protruding from the stem but, until very recently, I had never given them much thought. Not until I discovered the world of trichomes. Trichomes and I have been co-habiting for many years. They give out stings or release perfume. They feel like velvet. Or like an unshaven chin. They are on my poppies, on my geraniums, on the nettles, on the tomatoes, all over my son's cactus and on the cucumber plant's stems. In truth, most plants have trichomes. Trichomes look like hairs and protrude from a plant's leaf, stem or flower. Very little attention had been given to them by scientists when they were first observed, well over a century ago. However, trichomes have turned out to be precious minute entities on the surface of plants and we now know of a protein which has a direct role in trichome differentiation: trichome differentiation protein GL1. (PDF version - 316K bytes)
UniProt cross references
Trichome differentiation protein GL1, Arabidopsis thaliana, (Mouse-ear cress) : P27900
a tail of protection - July 2010
Movement is essential to all organisms. Long before the advent of legs for instance, Nature had devised cilia to satisfy the essential need of mobility – both self-mobility and the capacity to create mobility. These tail-like protrusions, which appear on the surface of many eukaryotic cells and are known as motile cilia, are capable of propelling protozoans forward, for example, or of pushing an ovum along the fallopian tube towards the uterus. A second type of cilium also exists. These are the sensory cilia, such as those that belong to our taste buds for example, and which convey the sense of taste to our brain. However, since the beginning of this new century, scientists have discovered yet a third type of cilium. Indeed, there is growing evidence that some motile cilia can also be sensory. Or vice versa. By way of illustration, researchers have demonstrated that motile cilia located in the lungs can actually sense noxious substances, thanks to the existence of “taste” receptors on their surface, and then whip them away to clear the airways. (PDF version - 680K bytes)
UniProt cross references
Taste receptor type 2 member 4, Homo sapiens, (Human) : Q9NYW5
Taste receptor type 2 member 38, Homo sapiens, (Human) : P59533
Taste receptor type 2 member 43, Homo sapiens, (Human) : P59537
Taste receptor type 2 member 46, Homo sapiens, (Human) : P59540
a mind astray - June 2010
He hadn’t been able to dial the full number for some time. But he had told his family that the phone was out of order. Until one of his daughters realised that it was not the phone which was faulty but her father’s memory. This is just one of the many manifestations of what could be the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). A disease which affects millions of people worldwide, and sends their families into a whirlpool of doubt, impatience, pain and disbelief. Slowly but surely, Alzheimer’s takes a hold of the patient’s brain, causing damage to its neuronal structure and hampering its cognitive faculties. In time, the patient fails to recognise his or her own family besides suffering from disturbed basic vital functions, and the family members have to learn to deal with the loss of someone dear who is still alive… With a little over 100 years of research into AD, scientists are now able to diagnose the affliction relatively early. Despite this, there is still no medication which can cure a patient, though researchers have ventured down many alleys. One of these alleys involves a protein known as immunophilin FKBP52 which may have a future in stalling the progression of Alzheimer’s. (PDF version - 52K bytes)
UniProt cross references
Peptidyl-prolyl cis-trans isomeras FKBP4, Rattus norvegicus, (Rat) : Q9QVC8
Peptidyl-prolyl cis-trans isomeras FKBP4, Homo sapiens, (Human) : Q02790
a short story - May 2010
When I was a child I remember seeing little girls and boys of my own age whose arms had not grown to their full length. There were not many but enough for me to find it almost normal. What I did not know is that there were other little boys and girls whose legs had not grown either. But we never saw them. As we never knew of all the little babies who died shortly after birth and whose limbs – and other parts of their bodies – were grossly malformed or simply absent. Such deformities were the doings of a drug known as thalidomide, and the children were known as thalidomide children. My mother refused to take thalidomide to treat her morning sickness when she was pregnant with her first child. Many other mothers, however, did not. And it was not long before the link between thalidomide and gross deformities found in newborns was made. How thalidomide created such handicaps remained a mystery for many years. Today, there are a number of hypotheses, one of which involves the protein cereblon which has turned out to be one of thalidomide’s direct targets. (PDF version - 61K bytes)
UniProt cross references
Protein cereblon, Homo sapiens , (Human) : Q96SW2
a complicated affair - April 2010
There is no life without communication. A heart will not beat, an eye will not see, a flower will not bloom, unless cells are exchanging information continuously. Such information comes both from the outside environment – such as light and temperature, for instance – and the inside environment – such as calcium, hormones or pressure, for example. Take a plant. A given leaf does not grow into its shape or size without the help of multiple upstream messages which have been processed, understood and performed accordingly. Thus giving the rose its petal, the cactus its needles and the fir tree its cone. A very intriguing question is how does a plant know when to tell a leaf to stop growing? In other words: how does a plant know when to tell cells to stop multiplying and expanding? Thus giving the leaf its final – and characteristic – form? The protein kinase ERECTA may provide an answer. ERECTA, or ER, seems to have a central role in relaying multiple messages to multiple pathways involved in plant development and architecture. (PDF version - 123K bytes)
UniProt cross references
LRR receptor-like protein kinase ERECTA, Arabisopsis thaliana , (Mouse-ear cress) : Q42371
love at first smell - March 2010
The making of life is demanding. Take any form – from fungus to bacteria, and plants to humans – the creation of progeny does not just happen. It takes a lot of molecular dialogue to divide E.coli into two, to cloak pistils with pollen or to get sperm to wriggle its way into the egg. The most complex biochemical pathways are triggered off so that life can not only start to exist but also develop in the best way possible. Lately, some intriguing discoveries have been made regarding human sperm and how it finally makes it to the egg. The ongoing theory is that it may well sniff its way there. So do spermatozoa have noses? No. But they do have receptors on their surface, which are very like – if not identical – to olfactory receptors we have in our noses, and which can pick up scents. These odorant receptors are known as hOR 17-4. Could it be then that the egg exudes some kind of perfume to lure the sperm towards it? Perhaps. (PDF version - 66K bytes)
UniProt cross references
Olfactory receptor 1D2, Homo sapiens, (Human) : P34982
sickly smell - February 2010
Words are not the only means of communication. Not only are they specific to the human species but there are many other ways of conveying messages, and – since the beginning of dawn – all kingdoms have shown great imagination in this area. Bacteria exchange information via chemical messages they secrete. Flowers produce scents to attract pollinators. Many animals are capable of turning on a possible partner by exuding pheromones. Releasing all sorts of molecules is one thing, but you also need something on the receiving end to sense them. These are receptors. There are many different kinds of receptors, found in many different tissues or cellular compartments, all of which are there to sense their matching molecule and relay the information further, i.e. the central nervous system in animals. Subsequently, the organism will be instructed to run away, let itself be seduced or avoid spoiled food, for instance. One particularly surprising receptor discovered in the nose of mice – a formyl peptide receptor – seems to have the ability to sniff out disease. (PDF version - 299K bytes)
UniProt cross references
Formyl peptide receptor-related sequence 1, Mus musculus, (Mouse) : O08790
Formyl peptide receptor-related sequence 3, Mus musculus, (Mouse) : O88537
Formyl peptide receptor-related sequence 4, Mus musculus, (Mouse) : A4FUQ5
Formyl peptide receptor-related sequence 6, Mus musculus, (Mouse) : Q3SXG2
Formyl peptide receptor-related sequence 7, Mus musculus, (Mouse) : Q71MR7
mint condition - January 2010
It is very likely that mint – and its close cousin menthol – is one of the most popular flavours or sensations known worldwide. Is there any population left on Earth that hasn’t sucked a mint sweet or chewed on mint gum? Mint is drunk in beverages, and brushed onto teeth. Added to sauces, and put into chocolates. Smeared onto chests and added to paper handkerchiefs. Why is it that mint and menthol are found, one way or another, almost everywhere on this planet? Transport would be an obvious answer. But there is more to it than that. Besides the numerous health benefits, mint – and menthol – have a quality that is readily appreciated by many: freshness. This sensation is the legacy of two kindred proteins – P450 cytochromes – found in mint plants. (PDF version - 241K bytes)
UniProt cross references
Cytochrome P450 71D15, Mentha piperita , (Peppermint) : Q9XHE6
Cytochrome P450 71D18, Mentha spicata , (Spearmint) : Q9XHE8


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