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Nature AOP



Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising concl



 



Gravitational waves: A golden binary

2017-10-16

The discovery of gravitational waves from a neutron-star merger and the detection of the event across the electromagnetic spectrum give insight into many aspects of gravity and astrophysics.



Optical emission from a kilonova following a gravitational-wave-detected neutron-star merger

2017-10-16

The merger of two neutron stars has been predicted to produce an optical–infrared transient (lasting a few days) known as a ‘kilonova’, powered by the radioactive decay of neutron-rich species synthesized in the merger. Evidence that short γ-ray bursts also arise from neutron-star mergers has been accumulating. In models of such mergers, a small amount of mass (10−4–10−2 solar masses) with a low electron fraction is ejected at high velocities (0.1–0.3 times light speed) or carried out by winds from an accretion disk formed around the newly merged object. This mass is expected to undergo rapid neutron capture (r-process) nucleosynthesis, leading to the formation of radioactive elements that release energy as they decay, powering an electromagnetic transient. A large uncertainty in the composition of the newly synthesized material leads to various expected colours, durations and luminosities for such transients. Observational evidence for kilonovae has so far been inconclusive because it was based on cases of moderate excess emission detected in the afterglows of γ-ray bursts. Here we report optical to near-infrared observations of a transient coincident with the detection of the gravitational-wave signature of a binary neutron-star merger and with a low-luminosity short-duration γ-ray burst. Our observations, taken roughly every eight hours over a few days following the gravitational-wave trigger, reveal an initial blue excess, with fast optical fading and reddening. Using numerical models, we conclude that our data are broadly consistent with a light curve powered by a few hundredths of a solar mass of low-opacity material corresponding to lanthanide-poor (a fraction of 10−4.5 by mass) ejecta.



The X-ray counterpart to the gravitational-wave event GW170817

2017-10-16

A long-standing paradigm in astrophysics is that collisions—or mergers—of two neutron stars form highly relativistic and collimated outflows (jets) that power γ-ray bursts of short (less than two seconds) duration. The observational support for this model, however, is only indirect. A hitherto outstanding prediction is that gravitational-wave events from such mergers should be associated with γ-ray bursts, and that a majority of these bursts should be seen off-axis, that is, they should point away from Earth. Here we report the discovery observations of the X-ray counterpart associated with the gravitational-wave event GW170817. Although the electromagnetic counterpart at optical and infrared frequencies is dominated by the radioactive glow (known as a ‘kilonova’) from freshly synthesized rapid neutron capture (r-process) material in the merger ejecta, observations at X-ray and, later, radio frequencies are consistent with a short γ-ray burst viewed off-axis. Our detection of X-ray emission at a location coincident with the kilonova transient provides the missing observational link between short γ-ray bursts and gravitational waves from neutron-star mergers, and gives independent confirmation of the collimated nature of the γ-ray-burst emission.



Transitional basal cells at the squamous–columnar junction generate Barrett’s oesophagus

2017-10-12

In several organ systems, the transitional zone between different types of epithelium is a hotspot for pre-neoplastic metaplasia and malignancy, but the cells of origin for these metaplastic epithelia and subsequent malignancies remain unknown. In the case of Barrett’s oesophagus, intestinal metaplasia occurs at the gastro-oesophageal junction, where stratified squamous epithelium transitions into simple columnar cells. On the basis of a number of experimental models, several alternative cell types have been proposed as the source of this metaplasia but in all cases the evidence is inconclusive: no model completely mimics Barrett’s oesophagus in terms of the presence of intestinal goblet cells. Here we describe a transitional columnar epithelium with distinct basal progenitor cells (p63+KRT5+KRT7+) at the squamous–columnar junction of the upper gastrointestinal tract in a mouse model. We use multiple models and lineage tracing strategies to show that this squamous–columnar junction basal cell population serves as a source of progenitors for the transitional epithelium. On ectopic expression of CDX2, these transitional basal progenitors differentiate into intestinal-like epithelium (including goblet cells) and thereby reproduce Barrett’s metaplasia. A similar transitional columnar epithelium is present at the transitional zones of other mouse tissues (including the anorectal junction) as well as in the gastro-oesophageal junction in the human gut. Acid reflux-induced oesophagitis and the multilayered epithelium (believed to be a precursor of Barrett’s oesophagus) are both characterized by the expansion of the transitional basal progenitor cells. Our findings reveal a previously unidentified transitional zone in the epithelium of the upper gastrointestinal tract and provide evidence that the p63+KRT5+KRT7+ basal cells in this zone are the cells of origin for multi-layered epithelium and Barrett’s oesophagus.






Neurobiology: Domains to the rescue for Rett syndrome

2017-10-11

Rett syndrome is a brain disorder caused by disrupted forms of the protein MECP2, but how MECP2 loss affects the brain is unknown. A mouse study now implicates key domains of the protein and offers therapeutic insights.



Cancer development: Origins in the oesophagus

2017-10-11

The cellular origins of a precancerous condition called Barrett's oesophagus have been unclear. Tracking and analysis of epithelial cells at the affected site could shed light on the problem.



DNA sequencing at 40: past, present and future

2017-10-11

The history and future potential of DNA sequencing, including the development of the underlying technologies and the expansion of its areas of application, are reviewed.



Human TRPML1 channel structures in open and closed conformations

2017-10-11

Two structures of human transient receptor potential mucolipin 1 (TRPML1), in the closed and agonist-bound open states, have been resolved by electron cryo-microscopy.



Structure of mammalian endolysosomal TRPML1 channel in nanodiscs

2017-10-11

Transient receptor potential mucolipin 1 (TRPML1) is a cation channel located within endosomal and lysosomal membranes. Ubiquitously expressed in mammalian cells, its loss-of-function mutations are the direct cause of type IV mucolipidosis, an autosomal recessive lysosomal storage disease. Here we present the single-particle electron cryo-microscopy structure of the mouse TRPML1 channel embedded in nanodiscs. Combined with mutagenesis analysis, the TRPML1 structure reveals that phosphatidylinositol-3,5-bisphosphate (PtdIns(3,5)P2) binds to the N terminus of the channel—distal from the pore—and the helix–turn–helix extension between segments S2 and S3 probably couples ligand binding to pore opening. The tightly packed selectivity filter contains multiple ion-binding sites, and the conserved acidic residues form the luminal Ca2+-blocking site that confers luminal pH and Ca2+ modulation on channel conductance. A luminal linker domain forms a fenestrated canopy atop the channel, providing several luminal ion passages to the pore and creating a negative electrostatic trap, with a preference for divalent cations, at the luminal entrance. The structure also reveals two equally distributed S4–S5 linker conformations in the closed channel, suggesting an S4–S5 linker-mediated PtdInsP2 gating mechanism among TRPML channels.



Nucleosome–Chd1 structure and implications for chromatin remodelling

2017-10-11

Chromatin-remodelling factors change nucleosome positioning and facilitate DNA transcription, replication, and repair. The conserved remodelling factor chromodomain-helicase-DNA binding protein 1(Chd1) can shift nucleosomes and induce regular nucleosome spacing. Chd1 is required for the passage of RNA polymerase IIthrough nucleosomes and for cellular pluripotency. Chd1 contains the DNA-binding domains SANT and SLIDE, a bilobal motor domain that hydrolyses ATP, and a regulatory double chromodomain. Here we report the cryo-electron microscopy structure of Chd1 from the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae bound to a nucleosome at a resolution of 4.8 Å. Chd1 detaches two turns of DNA from the histone octamer and binds between the two DNA gyres in a state poised for catalysis. The SANT and SLIDE domains contact detached DNA around superhelical location (SHL) −7 of the first DNA gyre. The ATPase motor binds the second DNA gyre at SHL +2 and is anchored to the N-terminal tail of histone H4, as seen in a recent nucleosome–Snf2 ATPase structure. Comparisons with published results reveal that the double chromodomain swings towards nucleosomal DNA at SHL +1, resulting in ATPase closure. The ATPase can then promote translocation of DNA towards the nucleosome dyad, thereby loosening the first DNA gyre and remodelling the nucleosome. Translocation may involve ratcheting of the two lobes of the ATPase, which is trapped in a pre- or post-translocation state in the absence or presence, respectively, of transition state-mimicking compounds.



Cryo-electron microscopy structure of the lysosomal calcium-permeable channel TRPML3

2017-10-11

The modulation of ion channel activity by lipids is increasingly recognized as a fundamental component of cellular signalling. The transient receptor potential mucolipin (TRPML) channel family belongs to the TRP superfamily and is composed of three members: TRPML1–TRPML3. TRPMLs are the major Ca2+-permeable channels on late endosomes and lysosomes (LEL). They regulate the release of Ca2+ from organelles, which is important for various physiological processes, including organelle trafficking and fusion. Loss-of-function mutations in the MCOLN1 gene, which encodes TRPML1, cause the neurodegenerative lysosomal storage disorder mucolipidosis type IV, and a gain-of-function mutation (Ala419Pro) in TRPML3 gives rise to the varitint–waddler (Va) mouse phenotype. Notably, TRPML channels are activated by the low-abundance and LEL-enriched signalling lipid phosphatidylinositol-3,5-bisphosphate (PtdIns(3,5)P2), whereas other phosphoinositides such as PtdIns(4,5)P2, which is enriched in plasma membranes, inhibit TRPMLs. Conserved basic residues at the N terminus of the channel are important for activation by PtdIns(3,5)P2 and inhibition by PtdIns(4,5)P2. However, owing to a lack of structural information, the mechanism by which TRPML channels recognize PtdIns(3,5)P2 and increase their Ca2+ conductance remains unclear. Here we present the cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) structure of a full-length TRPML3 channel from the common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) at an overall resolution of 2.9 Å. Our structure reveals not only the molecular basis of ion conduction but also the unique architecture of TRPMLs, wherein the voltage sensor-like domain is linked to the pore via a cytosolic domain that we term the mucolipin domain. Combined with functional studies, these data suggest that the mucolipin domain is responsible for PtdIns(3,5)P2 binding and subsequent channel activation, and that it acts as a ‘gating pulley’ for lipid-dependent TRPML gating.



The prevalence of Plasmodium falciparum in sub-Saharan Africa since 1900

2017-10-11

Malaria transmission is influenced by climate, land use and deliberate interventions. Recent declines have been observed in malaria transmission. Here we show that the African continent has witnessed a long-term decline in the prevalence of Plasmodium falciparum from 40% prevalence in the period 1900–1929 to 24% prevalence in the period 2010–2015, a trend that has been interrupted by periods of rapidly increasing or decreasing transmission. The cycles and trend over the past 115 years are inconsistent with explanations in terms of climate or deliberate intervention alone. Previous global initiatives have had minor impacts on malaria transmission, and a historically unprecedented decline has been observed since 2000. However, there has been little change in the high transmission belt that covers large parts of West and Central Africa. Previous efforts to model the changing patterns of P. falciparum transmission intensity in Africa have been limited to the past 15 years or have used maps drawn from historical expert opinions. We provide quantitative data, from 50,424 surveys at 36,966 geocoded locations, that covers 115 years of malaria history in sub-Saharan Africa; inferring from these data to future trends, we would expect continued reductions in malaria transmission, punctuated with resurgences.



Radically truncated MeCP2 rescues Rett syndrome-like neurological defects

2017-10-11

Heterozygous mutations in the X-linked MECP2 gene cause the neurological disorder Rett syndrome. The methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2) protein is an epigenetic reader whose binding to chromatin primarily depends on 5-methylcytosine. Functionally, MeCP2 has been implicated in several cellular processes on the basis of its reported interaction with more than 40 binding partners, including transcriptional co-repressors (for example, the NCoR/SMRT complex), transcriptional activators, RNA, chromatin remodellers, microRNA-processing proteins and splicing factors. Accordingly, MeCP2 has been cast as a multi-functional hub that integrates diverse processes that are essential in mature neurons. At odds with the concept of broad functionality, missense mutations that cause Rett syndrome are concentrated in two discrete clusters coinciding with interaction sites for partner macromolecules: the methyl-CpG binding domain and the NCoR/SMRT interaction domain. Here we test the hypothesis that the single dominant function of MeCP2 is to physically connect DNA with the NCoR/SMRT complex, by removing almost all amino-acid sequences except the methyl-CpG binding and NCoR/SMRT interaction domains. We find that mice expressing truncated MeCP2 lacking both the N- and C-terminal regions (approximately half of the native protein) are phenotypically near-normal; and those expressing a minimal MeCP2 additionally lacking a central domain survive for over one year with only mild symptoms. This minimal protein is able to prevent or reverse neurological symptoms when introduced into MeCP2-deficient mice by genetic activation or virus-mediated delivery to the brain. Thus, despite evolutionary conservation of the entire MeCP2 protein sequence, the DNA and co-repressor binding domains alone are sufficient to avoid Rett syndrome-like defects and may therefore have therapeutic utility.



Structural phase transition in monolayer MoTe2 driven by electrostatic doping

2017-10-11

Monolayers of transition-metal dichalcogenides (TMDs) exhibit numerous crystal phases with distinct structures, symmetries and physical properties. Exploring the physics of transitions between these different structural phases in two dimensions may provide a means of switching material properties, with implications for potential applications. Structural phase transitions in TMDs have so far been induced by thermal or chemical means; purely electrostatic control over crystal phases through electrostatic doping was recently proposed as a theoretical possibility, but has not yet been realized. Here we report the experimental demonstration of an electrostatic-doping-driven phase transition between the hexagonal and monoclinic phases of monolayer molybdenum ditelluride (MoTe2). We find that the phase transition shows a hysteretic loop in Raman spectra, and can be reversed by increasing or decreasing the gate voltage. We also combine second-harmonic generation spectroscopy with polarization-resolved Raman spectroscopy to show that the induced monoclinic phase preserves the crystal orientation of the original hexagonal phase. Moreover, this structural phase transition occurs simultaneously across the whole sample. This electrostatic-doping control of structural phase transition opens up new possibilities for developing phase-change devices based on atomically thin membranes.



Establishment of mouse expanded potential stem cells

2017-10-11

Mouse embryonic stem cells derived from the epiblast contribute to the somatic lineages and the germline but are excluded from the extra-embryonic tissues that are derived from the trophectoderm and the primitive endoderm upon reintroduction to the blastocyst. Here we report that cultures of expanded potential stem cells can be established from individual eight-cell blastomeres, and by direct conversion of mouse embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells. Remarkably, a single expanded potential stem cell can contribute both to the embryo proper and to the trophectoderm lineages in a chimaera assay. Bona fide trophoblast stem cell lines and extra-embryonic endoderm stem cells can be directly derived from expanded potential stem cells in vitro. Molecular analyses of the epigenome and single-cell transcriptome reveal enrichment for blastomere-specific signature and a dynamic DNA methylome in expanded potential stem cells. The generation of mouse expanded potential stem cells highlights the feasibility of establishing expanded potential stem cells for other mammalian species.



Ion sieving in graphene oxide membranes via cationic control of interlayer spacing

2017-10-09

Graphene oxide membranes—partially oxidized, stacked sheets of graphene—can provide ultrathin, high-flux and energy-efficient membranes for precise ionic and molecular sieving in aqueous solution. These materials have shown potential in a variety of applications, including water desalination and purification, gas and ion separation, biosensors, proton conductors, lithium-based batteries and super-capacitors. Unlike the pores of carbon nanotube membranes, which have fixed sizes, the pores of graphene oxide membranes—that is, the interlayer spacing between graphene oxide sheets (a sheet is a single flake inside the membrane)—are of variable size. Furthermore, it is difficult to reduce the interlayer spacing sufficiently to exclude small ions and to maintain this spacing against the tendency of graphene oxide membranes to swell when immersed in aqueous solution. These challenges hinder the potential ion filtration applications of graphene oxide membranes. Here we demonstrate cationic control of the interlayer spacing of graphene oxide membranes with ångström precision using K+, Na+, Ca2+, Li+ or Mg2+ ions. Moreover, membrane spacings controlled by one type of cation can efficiently and selectively exclude other cations that have larger hydrated volumes. First-principles calculations and ultraviolet absorption spectroscopy reveal that the location of the most stable cation adsorption is where oxide groups and aromatic rings coexist. Previous density functional theory computations show that other cations (Fe2+, Co2+, Cu2+, Cd2+, Cr2+ and Pb2+) should have a much stronger cation–π interaction with the graphene sheet than Na+ has, suggesting that other ions could be used to produce a wider range of interlayer spacings.



Biochemistry: Complex assistance for DNA invasion

2017-10-04

Repair of broken DNA is vital for genome stability and to prevent the development of cancer. Research shows how the tumour-suppressor protein BRCA1 promotes a DNA-repair pathway called homologous recombination.



Mathematics: A pariah finds a home

2017-10-04

Pariahs are fundamental building blocks in a branch of mathematics called group theory, but seem to be unconnected from both physics and other areas of mathematics. Such a connection has now been identified.



Cancer: Tumours addicted to drugs are vulnerable

2017-10-04

Cancer cells can develop an 'addiction' to the drugs they are treated with, so that they need the drugs to survive. Analysis of the underlying mechanism reveals a potential clinical strategy for harnessing this phenomenon.



Chromosome biology: How to build a cohesive genome in 3D

2017-10-04

Removing the protein complex cohesin from chromosomes destroys one layer of the genome's 3D structure but leaves another intact. Genome structure is therefore built by independent processes that work together.



Cancer biology: Genome jail-break triggers lockdown

2017-10-04

A pro-inflammatory response, the senescence-associated secretory phenotype, can affect development, ageing and cancer. It emerges that one trigger for this response is the presence of DNA in the cytoplasm.



The transcription fidelity factor GreA impedes DNA break repair

2017-10-04

In Escherichia coli, the control of RNA polymerase backtracking by transcription elongation factors impairs DNA break repair by affecting RecBCD resection and consequently RecA loading at sites far removed from the original DNA break.



BRCA1–BARD1 promotes RAD51-mediated homologous DNA pairing

2017-10-04

The tumour suppressor complex BRCA1–BARD1, which facilitates the generation of a single-stranded DNA template during homologous recombination, also binds to the recombinase RAD51 and enhances its function.



RNA targeting with CRISPR–Cas13

2017-10-04

RNA has important and diverse roles in biology, but molecular tools to manipulate and measure it are limited. For example, RNA interference can efficiently knockdown RNAs, but it is prone to off-target effects, and visualizing RNAs typically relies on the introduction of exogenous tags. Here we demonstrate that the class 2 type VI RNA-guided RNA-targeting CRISPR–Cas effector Cas13a (previously known as C2c2) can be engineered for mammalian cell RNA knockdown and binding. After initial screening of 15 orthologues, we identified Cas13a from Leptotrichia wadei (LwaCas13a) as the most effective in an interference assay in Escherichia coli. LwaCas13a can be heterologously expressed in mammalian and plant cells for targeted knockdown of either reporter or endogenous transcripts with comparable levels of knockdown as RNA interference and improved specificity. Catalytically inactive LwaCas13a maintains targeted RNA binding activity, which we leveraged for programmable tracking of transcripts in live cells. Our results establish CRISPR–Cas13a as a flexible platform for studying RNA in mammalian cells and therapeutic development.



Cytoplasmic chromatin triggers inflammation in senescence and cancer

2017-10-04

Chromatin is traditionally viewed as a nuclear entity that regulates gene expression and silencing. However, we recently discovered the presence of cytoplasmic chromatin fragments that pinch off from intact nuclei of primary cells during senescence, a form of terminal cell-cycle arrest associated with pro-inflammatory responses. The functional significance of chromatin in the cytoplasm is unclear. Here we show that cytoplasmic chromatin activates the innate immunity cytosolic DNA-sensing cGAS–STING (cyclic GMP–AMP synthase linked to stimulator of interferon genes) pathway, leading both to short-term inflammation to restrain activated oncogenes and to chronic inflammation that associates with tissue destruction and cancer. The cytoplasmic chromatin–cGAS–STING pathway promotes the senescence-associated secretory phenotype in primary human cells and in mice. Mice deficient in STING show impaired immuno-surveillance of oncogenic RAS and reduced tissue inflammation upon ionizing radiation. Furthermore, this pathway is activated in cancer cells, and correlates with pro-inflammatory gene expression in human cancers. Overall, our findings indicate that genomic DNA serves as a reservoir to initiate a pro-inflammatory pathway in the cytoplasm in senescence and cancer. Targeting the cytoplasmic chromatin-mediated pathway may hold promise in treating inflammation-related disorders.



A viral Sm-class RNA base-pairs with mRNAs and recruits microRNAs to inhibit apoptosis

2017-10-04

Viruses express several classes of non-coding RNAs; the functions and mechanisms by which most of these act are unknown. Herpesvirus saimiri, a γ-herpesvirus that establishes latency in the T cells of New World primates and has the ability to cause aggressive leukaemias and lymphomas in non-natural hosts, expresses seven small nuclear uracil-rich non-coding RNAs (called HSURs) in latently infected cells. These HSURs associate with Sm proteins, and share biogenesis and structural features with cellular Sm-class small nuclear RNAs. One of these HSURs (HSUR2) base-pairs with two host cellular microRNAs (miR-142-3p and miR-16) but does not affect their abundance or activity, which suggests that its interactions with them perform alternative functions. Here we show that HSUR2 also base-pairs with mRNAs in infected cells. We combined in vivo psoralen-mediated RNA–RNA crosslinking and high-throughput sequencing to identify the mRNAs targeted by HSUR2, which include mRNAs that encode retinoblastoma and factors involved in p53 signalling and apoptosis. We show that HSUR2 represses the expression of target mRNAs and that base-pairing between HSUR2 and miR-142-3p and miR-16 is essential for this repression, suggesting that HSUR2 recruits these two cellular microRNAs to its target mRNAs. Furthermore, we show that HSUR2 uses this mechanism to inhibit apoptosis. Our results uncover a role for this viral Sm-class RNA as a microRNA adaptor in the regulation of gene expression that follows precursor mRNA processing.



Cancer drug addiction is relayed by an ERK2-dependent phenotype switch

2017-10-04

Observations from cultured cells, animal models and patients raise the possibility that the dependency of tumours on the therapeutic drugs to which they have acquired resistance represents a vulnerability with potential applications in cancer treatment. However, for this drug addiction trait to become of clinical interest, we must first define the mechanism that underlies it. We performed an unbiased CRISPR–Cas9 knockout screen on melanoma cells that were both resistant and addicted to inhibition of the serine/threonine-protein kinase BRAF, in order to functionally mine their genome for ‘addiction genes’. Here we describe a signalling pathway comprising ERK2 kinase and JUNB and FRA1 transcription factors, disruption of which allowed addicted tumour cells to survive on treatment discontinuation. This occurred in both cultured cells and mice and was irrespective of the acquired drug resistance mechanism. In melanoma and lung cancer cells, death induced by drug withdrawal was preceded by a specific ERK2-dependent phenotype switch, alongside transcriptional reprogramming reminiscent of the epithelial–mesenchymal transition. In melanoma cells, this reprogramming caused the shutdown of microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF), a lineage survival oncoprotein; restoring this protein reversed phenotype switching and prevented the lethality associated with drug addiction. In patients with melanoma that had progressed during treatment with a BRAF inhibitor, treatment cessation was followed by increased expression of the receptor tyrosine kinase AXL, which is associated with the phenotype switch. Drug discontinuation synergized with the melanoma chemotherapeutic agent dacarbazine by further suppressing MITF and its prosurvival target, B-cell lymphoma 2 (BCL-2), and by inducing DNA damage in cancer cells. Our results uncover a pathway that underpins drug addiction in cancer cells, which may help to guide the use of alternating therapeutic strategies for enhanced clinical responses in drug-resistant cancers.



Hippo pathway deficiency reverses systolic heart failure after infarction

2017-10-04

Mammalian organs vary widely in regenerative capacity. Poorly regenerative organs, such as the heart are particularly vulnerable to organ failure. Once established, heart failure commonly results in mortality. The Hippo pathway, a kinase cascade that prevents adult cardiomyocyte proliferation and regeneration, is upregulated in human heart failure. Here we show that deletion of the Hippo pathway component Salvador (Salv) in mouse hearts with established ischaemic heart failure after myocardial infarction induces a reparative genetic program with increased scar border vascularity, reduced fibrosis, and recovery of pumping function compared with controls. Using translating ribosomal affinity purification, we isolate cardiomyocyte-specific translating messenger RNA. Hippo-deficient cardiomyocytes have increased expression of proliferative genes and stress response genes, such as the mitochondrial quality control gene, Park2. Genetic studies indicate that Park2 is essential for heart repair, suggesting a requirement for mitochondrial quality control in regenerating myocardium. Gene therapy with a virus encoding Salv short hairpin RNA improves heart function when delivered at the time of infarct or after ischaemic heart failure following myocardial infarction was established. Our findings indicate that the failing heart has a previously unrecognized reparative capacity involving more than cardiomyocyte renewal.



TORC1 organized in inhibited domains (TOROIDs) regulate TORC1 activity

2017-10-04

The target of rapamycin (TOR) is a eukaryotic serine/threonine protein kinase that functions in two distinct complexes, TORC1 and TORC2, to regulate growth and metabolism. GTPases, responding to signals generated by abiotic stressors, nutrients, and, in metazoans, growth factors, play an important but poorly understood role in TORC1 regulation. Here we report that, in budding yeast, glucose withdrawal (which leads to an acute loss of TORC1 kinase activity) triggers a similarly rapid Rag GTPase-dependent redistribution of TORC1 from being semi-uniform around the vacuolar membrane to a single, vacuole-associated cylindrical structure visible by super-resolution optical microscopy. Three-dimensional reconstructions of cryo-electron micrograph images of these purified cylinders demonstrate that TORC1 oligomerizes into a higher-level hollow helical assembly, which we name a TOROID (TORC1 organized in inhibited domain). Fitting of the recently described mammalian TORC1 structure into our helical map reveals that oligomerization leads to steric occlusion of the active site. Guided by the implications from our reconstruction, we present a TOR1 allele that prevents both TOROID formation and TORC1 inactivation in response to glucose withdrawal, demonstrating that oligomerization is necessary for TORC1 inactivation. Our results reveal a novel mechanism by which Rag GTPases regulate TORC1 activity and suggest that the reversible assembly and/or disassembly of higher-level structures may be an underappreciated mechanism for the regulation of protein kinases.









Organic long persistent luminescence

2017-10-02

Long persistent luminescence (LPL) materials—widely commercialized as ‘glow-in-the-dark’ paints—store excitation energy in excited states that slowly release this energy as light. At present, most LPL materials are based on an inorganic system of strontium aluminium oxide (SrAl2O4) doped with europium and dysprosium, and exhibit emission for more than ten hours. However, this system requires rare elements and temperatures higher than 1,000 degrees Celsius during fabrication, and light scattering by SrAl2O4 powders limits the transparency of LPL paints. Here we show that an organic LPL (OLPL) system of two simple organic molecules that is free from rare elements and easy to fabricate can generate emission that lasts for more than one hour at room temperature. Previous organic systems, which were based on two-photon ionization, required high excitation intensities and low temperatures. By contrast, our OLPL system—which is based on emission from excited complexes (exciplexes) upon the recombination of long-lived charge-separated states—can be excited by a standard white LED light source and generate long emission even at temperatures above 100 degrees Celsius. This OLPL system is transparent, soluble, and potentially flexible and colour-tunable, opening new applications for LPL in large-area and flexible paints, biomarkers, fabrics, and windows. Moreover, the study of long-lived charge separation in this system should advance understanding of a wide variety of organic semiconductor devices.






Obesity: Receptors identified for a weight regulator

2017-09-27

The discovery of the receptors for the protein GDF15 suggests that it regulates food uptake through the emergency pathway — a neuronal circuit that causes weight loss in response to cancer, tissue damage and stress.



Massively parallel de novo protein design for targeted therapeutics

2017-09-27

A massively parallel computational and experimental approach for de novo designing and screening small hyperstable proteins targeting influenza haemagglutinin and botulinum neurotoxin B identifies new therapeutic candidates more robust than traditional antibody therapies.



Inflammasome-driven catecholamine catabolism in macrophages blunts lipolysis during ageing

2017-09-27

Catecholamine-induced lipolysis, the first step in the generation of energy substrates by the hydrolysis of triglycerides, declines with age. The defect in the mobilization of free fatty acids in the elderly is accompanied by increased visceral adiposity, lower exercise capacity, failure to maintain core body temperature during cold stress, and reduced ability to survive starvation. Although catecholamine signalling in adipocytes is normal in the elderly, how lipolysis is impaired in ageing remains unknown. Here we show that adipose tissue macrophages regulate the age-related reduction in adipocyte lipolysis in mice by lowering the bioavailability of noradrenaline. Unexpectedly, unbiased whole-transcriptome analyses of adipose macrophages revealed that ageing upregulates genes that control catecholamine degradation in an NLRP3 inflammasome-dependent manner. Deletion of NLRP3 in ageing restored catecholamine-induced lipolysis by downregulating growth differentiation factor-3 (GDF3) and monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) that is known to degrade noradrenaline. Consistent with this, deletion of GDF3 in inflammasome-activated macrophages improved lipolysis by decreasing levels of MAOA and caspase-1. Furthermore, inhibition of MAOA reversed the age-related reduction in noradrenaline concentration in adipose tissue, and restored lipolysis with increased levels of the key lipolytic enzymes adipose triglyceride lipase (ATGL) and hormone sensitive lipase (HSL). Our study reveals that targeting neuro-immunometabolic signalling between the sympathetic nervous system and macrophages may offer new approaches to mitigate chronic inflammation-induced metabolic impairment and functional decline.



A reversible haploid mouse embryonic stem cell biobank resource for functional genomics

2017-09-27

The ability to directly uncover the contributions of genes to a given phenotype is fundamental for biology research. However, ostensibly homogeneous cell populations exhibit large clonal variance that can confound analyses and undermine reproducibility. Here we used genome-saturated mutagenesis to create a biobank of over 100,000 individual haploid mouse embryonic stem (mES) cell lines targeting 16,970 genes with genetically barcoded, conditional and reversible mutations. This Haplobank is, to our knowledge, the largest resource of hemi/homozygous mutant mES cells to date and is available to all researchers. Reversible mutagenesis overcomes clonal variance by permitting functional annotation of the genome directly in sister cells. We use the Haplobank in reverse genetic screens to investigate the temporal resolution of essential genes in mES cells, and to identify novel genes that control sprouting angiogenesis and lineage specification of blood vessels. Furthermore, a genome-wide forward screen with Haplobank identified PLA2G16 as a host factor that is required for cytotoxicity by rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold. Therefore, clones from the Haplobank combined with the use of reversible technologies enable high-throughput, reproducible, functional annotation of the genome.



Non-homeostatic body weight regulation through a brainstem-restricted receptor for GDF15

2017-09-27

Under homeostatic conditions, animals use well-defined hypothalamic neural circuits to help maintain stable body weight, by integrating metabolic and hormonal signals from the periphery to balance food consumption and energy expenditure. In stressed or disease conditions, however, animals use alternative neuronal pathways to adapt to the metabolic challenges of altered energy demand. Recent studies have identified brain areas outside the hypothalamus that are activated under these ‘non-homeostatic’ conditions, but the molecular nature of the peripheral signals and brain-localized receptors that activate these circuits remains elusive. Here we identify glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) receptor alpha-like (GFRAL) as a brainstem-restricted receptor for growth and differentiation factor 15 (GDF15). GDF15 regulates food intake, energy expenditure and body weight in response to metabolic and toxin-induced stresses; we show that Gfral knockout mice are hyperphagic under stressed conditions and are resistant to chemotherapy-induced anorexia and body weight loss. GDF15 activates GFRAL-expressing neurons localized exclusively in the area postrema and nucleus tractus solitarius of the mouse brainstem. It then triggers the activation of neurons localized within the parabrachial nucleus and central amygdala, which constitute part of the ‘emergency circuit’ that shapes feeding responses to stressful conditions. GDF15 levels increase in response to tissue stress and injury, and elevated levels are associated with body weight loss in numerous chronic human diseases. By isolating GFRAL as the receptor for GDF15-induced anorexia and weight loss, we identify a mechanistic basis for the non-homeostatic regulation of neural circuitry by a peripheral signal associated with tissue damage and stress. These findings provide opportunities to develop therapeutic agents for the treatment of disorders with altered energy demand.



Discovery of a selective catalytic p300/CBP inhibitor that targets lineage-specific tumours

2017-09-27

The dynamic and reversible acetylation of proteins, catalysed by histone acetyltransferases (HATs) and histone deacetylases (HDACs), is a major epigenetic regulatory mechanism of gene transcription and is associated with multiple diseases. Histone deacetylase inhibitors are currently approved to treat certain cancers, but progress on the development of drug-like histone actyltransferase inhibitors has lagged behind. The histone acetyltransferase paralogues p300 and CREB-binding protein (CBP) are key transcriptional co-activators that are essential for a multitude of cellular processes, and have also been implicated in human pathological conditions (including cancer). Current inhibitors of the p300 and CBP histone acetyltransferase domains, including natural products, bi-substrate analogues and the widely used small molecule C646, lack potency or selectivity. Here, we describe A-485, a potent, selective and drug-like catalytic inhibitor of p300 and CBP. We present a high resolution (1.95 Å) co-crystal structure of a small molecule bound to the catalytic active site of p300 and demonstrate that A-485 competes with acetyl coenzyme A (acetyl-CoA). A-485 selectively inhibited proliferation in lineage-specific tumour types, including several haematological malignancies and androgen receptor-positive prostate cancer. A-485 inhibited the androgen receptor transcriptional program in both androgen-sensitive and castration-resistant prostate cancer and inhibited tumour growth in a castration-resistant xenograft model. These results demonstrate the feasibility of using small molecule inhibitors to selectively target the catalytic activity of histone acetyltransferases, which may provide effective treatments for transcriptional activator-driven malignancies and diseases.



PAK signalling drives acquired drug resistance to MAPK inhibitors in BRAF-mutant melanomas

2017-09-27

Targeted BRAF inhibition (BRAFi) and combined BRAF and MEK inhibition (BRAFi and MEKi) therapies have markedly improved the clinical outcomes of patients with metastatic melanoma. Unfortunately, the efficacy of these treatments is often countered by the acquisition of drug resistance. Here we investigated the molecular mechanisms that underlie acquired resistance to BRAFi and to the combined therapy. Consistent with previous studies, we show that resistance to BRAFi is mediated by ERK pathway reactivation. Resistance to the combined therapy, however, is mediated by mechanisms independent of reactivation of ERK in many resistant cell lines and clinical samples. p21-activated kinases (PAKs) become activated in cells with acquired drug resistance and have a pivotal role in mediating resistance. Our screening, using a reverse-phase protein array, revealed distinct mechanisms by which PAKs mediate resistance to BRAFi and the combined therapy. In BRAFi-resistant cells, PAKs phosphorylate CRAF and MEK to reactivate ERK. In cells that are resistant to the combined therapy, PAKs regulate JNK and β-catenin phosphorylation and mTOR pathway activation, and inhibit apoptosis, thereby bypassing ERK. Together, our results provide insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying acquired drug resistance to current targeted therapies, and may help to direct novel drug development efforts to overcome acquired drug resistance.



Retrograde semaphorin–plexin signalling drives homeostatic synaptic plasticity

2017-09-27

Homeostatic signalling systems ensure stable but flexible neural activity and animal behaviour. Presynaptic homeostatic plasticity is a conserved form of neuronal homeostatic signalling that is observed in organisms ranging from Drosophila to human. Defining the underlying molecular mechanisms of neuronal homeostatic signalling will be essential in order to establish clear connections to the causes and progression of neurological disease. During neural development, semaphorin–plexin signalling instructs axon guidance and neuronal morphogenesis. However, semaphorins and plexins are also expressed in the adult brain. Here we show that semaphorin 2b (Sema2b) is a target-derived signal that acts upon presynaptic plexin B (PlexB) receptors to mediate the retrograde, homeostatic control of presynaptic neurotransmitter release at the neuromuscular junction in Drosophila. Further, we show that Sema2b–PlexB signalling regulates presynaptic homeostatic plasticity through the cytoplasmic protein Mical and the oxoreductase-dependent control of presynaptic actin. We propose that semaphorin–plexin signalling is an essential platform for the stabilization of synaptic transmission throughout the developing and mature nervous system. These findings may be relevant to the aetiology and treatment of diverse neurological and psychiatric diseases that are characterized by altered or inappropriate neural function and behaviour.



CG dinucleotide suppression enables antiviral defence targeting non-self RNA

2017-09-27

Vertebrate genomes exhibit marked CG suppression—that is, lower than expected numbers of 5′-CG-3′ dinucleotides. This feature is likely to be due to C-to-T mutations that have accumulated over hundreds of millions of years, driven by CG-specific DNA methyl transferases and spontaneous methyl-cytosine deamination. Many RNA viruses of vertebrates that are not substrates for DNA methyl transferases mimic the CG suppression of their hosts. This property of viral genomes is unexplained. Here we show, using synonymous mutagenesis, that CG suppression is essential for HIV-1 replication. The deleterious effect of CG dinucleotides on HIV-1 replication was cumulative, associated with cytoplasmic RNA depletion, and was exerted by CG dinucleotides in both translated and non-translated exonic RNA sequences. A focused screen using small inhibitory RNAs revealed that zinc-finger antiviral protein (ZAP) inhibited virion production by cells infected with CG-enriched HIV-1. Crucially, HIV-1 mutants containing segments whose CG content mimicked random nucleotide sequence were defective in unmanipulated cells, but replicated normally in ZAP-deficient cells. Crosslinking–immunoprecipitation–sequencing assays demonstrated that ZAP binds directly and selectively to RNA sequences containing CG dinucleotides. These findings suggest that ZAP exploits host CG suppression to identify non-self RNA. The dinucleotide composition of HIV-1, and perhaps other RNA viruses, appears to have adapted to evade this host defence.



Probing the limits of metal plasticity with molecular dynamics simulations

2017-09-27

Ordinarily, the strength and plasticity properties of a metal are defined by dislocations—line defects in the crystal lattice whose motion results in material slippage along lattice planes. Dislocation dynamics models are usually used as mesoscale proxies for true atomistic dynamics, which are computationally expensive to perform routinely. However, atomistic simulations accurately capture every possible mechanism of material response, resolving every “jiggle and wiggle” of atomic motion, whereas dislocation dynamics models do not. Here we present fully dynamic atomistic simulations of bulk single-crystal plasticity in the body-centred-cubic metal tantalum. Our goal is to quantify the conditions under which the limits of dislocation-mediated plasticity are reached and to understand what happens to the metal beyond any such limit. In our simulations, the metal is compressed at ultrahigh strain rates along its [001] crystal axis under conditions of constant pressure, temperature and strain rate. To address the complexity of crystal plasticity processes on the length scales (85–340 nm) and timescales (1 ns–1μs) that we examine, we use recently developed methods of in situ computational microscopy to recast the enormous amount of transient trajectory data generated in our simulations into a form that can be analysed by a human. Our simulations predict that, on reaching certain limiting conditions of strain, dislocations alone can no longer relieve mechanical loads; instead, another mechanism, known as deformation twinning (the sudden re-orientation of the crystal lattice), takes over as the dominant mode of dynamic response. Below this limit, the metal assumes a strain-path-independent steady state of plastic flow in which the flow stress and the dislocation density remain constant as long as the conditions of straining thereafter remain unchanged. In this distinct state, tantalum flows like a viscous fluid while retaining its crystal lattice and remaining a strong and stiff metal.









Light-field-driven currents in graphene

2017-09-25

The ability to steer electrons using the strong electromagnetic field of light has opened up the possibility of controlling electron dynamics on the sub-femtosecond (less than 10−15 seconds) timescale. In dielectrics and semiconductors, various light-field-driven effects have been explored, including high-harmonic generation, sub-optical-cycle interband population transfer and the non-perturbative change of the transient polarizability. In contrast, much less is known about light-field-driven electron dynamics in narrow-bandgap systems or in conductors, in which screening due to free carriers or light absorption hinders the application of strong optical fields. Graphene is a promising platform with which to achieve light-field-driven control of electrons in a conducting material, because of its broadband and ultrafast optical response, weak screening and high damage threshold. Here we show that a current induced in monolayer graphene by two-cycle laser pulses is sensitive to the electric-field waveform, that is, to the exact shape of the optical carrier field of the pulse, which is controlled by the carrier-envelope phase, with a precision on the attosecond (10−18 seconds) timescale. Such a current, dependent on the carrier-envelope phase, shows a striking reversal of the direction of the current as a function of the driving field amplitude at about two volts per nanometre. This reversal indicates a transition of light–matter interaction from the weak-field (photon-driven) regime to the strong-field (light-field-driven) regime, where the intraband dynamics influence interband transitions. We show that in this strong-field regime the electron dynamics are governed by sub-optical-cycle Landau–Zener–Stückelberg interference, composed of coherent repeated Landau–Zener transitions on the femtosecond timescale. Furthermore, the influence of this sub-optical-cycle interference can be controlled with the laser polarization state. These coherent electron dynamics in graphene take place on a hitherto unexplored timescale, faster than electron–electron scattering (tens of femtoseconds) and electron–phonon scattering (hundreds of femtoseconds). We expect these results to have direct ramifications for band-structure tomography and light-field-driven petahertz electronics.



Strains, functions and dynamics in the expanded Human Microbiome Project

2017-09-20

Updates from the Human Microbiome Project analyse the largest known body-wide metagenomic profile of human microbiome personalization.



Layer-by-layer assembly of two-dimensional materials into wafer-scale heterostructures

2017-09-20

High-performance semiconductor films with vertical compositions that are designed to atomic-scale precision provide the foundation for modern integrated circuitry and novel materials discovery. One approach to realizing such films is sequential layer-by-layer assembly, whereby atomically thin two-dimensional building blocks are vertically stacked, and held together by van der Waals interactions. With this approach, graphene and transition-metal dichalcogenides—which represent one- and three-atom-thick two-dimensional building blocks, respectively—have been used to realize previously inaccessible heterostructures with interesting physical properties. However, no large-scale assembly method exists at present that maintains the intrinsic properties of these two-dimensional building blocks while producing pristine interlayer interfaces, thus limiting the layer-by-layer assembly method to small-scale proof-of-concept demonstrations. Here we report the generation of wafer-scale semiconductor films with a very high level of spatial uniformity and pristine interfaces. The vertical composition and properties of these films are designed at the atomic scale using layer-by-layer assembly of two-dimensional building blocks under vacuum. We fabricate several large-scale, high-quality heterostructure films and devices, including superlattice films with vertical compositions designed layer-by-layer, batch-fabricated tunnel device arrays with resistances that can be tuned over four orders of magnitude, band-engineered heterostructure tunnel diodes, and millimetre-scale ultrathin membranes and windows. The stacked films are detachable, suspendable and compatible with water or plastic surfaces, which will enable their integration with advanced optical and mechanical systems.



Temporal coexistence mechanisms contribute to the latitudinal gradient in forest diversity

2017-09-20

The tropical forests of Borneo and Amazonia may each contain more tree species diversity in half a square kilometre than do all the temperate forests of Europe, North America, and Asia combined. Biologists have long been fascinated by this disparity, using it to investigate potential drivers of biodiversity. Latitudinal variation in many of these drivers is expected to create geographic differences in ecological and evolutionary processes, and evidence increasingly shows that tropical ecosystems have higher rates of diversification, clade origination, and clade dispersal. However, there is currently no evidence to link gradients in ecological processes within communities at a local scale directly to the geographic gradient in biodiversity. Here, we show geographic variation in the storage effect, an ecological mechanism that reduces the potential for competitive exclusion more strongly in the tropics than it does in temperate and boreal zones, decreasing the ratio of interspecific-to-intraspecific competition by 0.25% for each degree of latitude that an ecosystem is located closer to the Equator. Additionally, we find evidence that latitudinal variation in climate underpins these differences; longer growing seasons in the tropics reduce constraints on the seasonal timing of reproduction, permitting lower recruitment synchrony between species and thereby enhancing niche partitioning through the storage effect. Our results demonstrate that the strength of the storage effect, and therefore its impact on diversity within communities, varies latitudinally in association with climate. This finding highlights the importance of biotic interactions in shaping geographic diversity patterns, and emphasizes the need to understand the mechanisms underpinning ecological processes in greater detail than has previously been appreciated.












Patchy particles made by colloidal fusion

2017-09-18

Patches on the surfaces of colloidal particles provide directional information that enables the self-assembly of the particles into higher-order structures. Although computational tools can make quantitative predictions and can generate design rules that link the patch motif of a particle to its internal microstructure and to the emergent properties of the self-assembled materials, the experimental realization of model systems of particles with surface patches (or ‘patchy’ particles) remains a challenge. Synthetic patchy colloidal particles are often poor geometric approximations of the digital building blocks used in simulations and can only rarely be manufactured in sufficiently high yields to be routinely used as experimental model systems. Here we introduce a method, which we refer to as colloidal fusion, for fabricating functional patchy particles in a tunable and scalable manner. Using coordination dynamics and wetting forces, we engineer hybrid liquid–solid clusters that evolve into particles with a range of patchy surface morphologies on addition of a plasticizer. We are able to predict and control the evolutionary pathway by considering surface-energy minimization, leading to two main branches of product: first, spherical particles with liquid surface patches, capable of forming curable bonds with neighbouring particles to assemble robust supracolloidal structures; and second, particles with a faceted liquid compartment, which can be cured and purified to yield colloidal polyhedra. These findings outline a scalable strategy for the synthesis of patchy particles, first by designing their surface patterns by computer simulation, and then by recreating them in the laboratory with high fidelity.



A spin transition mechanism for cooperative adsorption in metal–organic frameworks

2017-09-11

Cooperative binding, whereby an initial binding event facilitates the uptake of additional substrate molecules, is common in biological systems such as haemoglobin. It was recently shown that porous solids that exhibit cooperative binding have substantial energetic benefits over traditional adsorbents, but few guidelines currently exist for the design of such materials. In principle, metal–organic frameworks that contain coordinatively unsaturated metal centres could act as both selective and cooperative adsorbents if guest binding at one site were to trigger an electronic transformation that subsequently altered the binding properties at neighbouring metal sites. Here we illustrate this concept through the selective adsorption of carbon monoxide (CO) in a series of metal–organic frameworks featuring coordinatively unsaturated iron(ii) sites. Functioning via a mechanism by which neighbouring iron(ii) sites undergo a spin-state transition above a threshold CO pressure, these materials exhibit large CO separation capacities with only small changes in temperature. The very low regeneration energies that result may enable more efficient Fischer–Tropsch conversions and extraction of CO from industrial waste feeds, which currently underutilize this versatile carbon synthon. The electronic basis for the cooperative adsorption demonstrated here could provide a general strategy for designing efficient and selective adsorbents suitable for various separations.



A solvent- and vacuum-free route to large-area perovskite films for efficient solar modules

2017-09-06

Recent advances in the use of organic–inorganic hybrid perovskites for optoelectronics have been rapid, with reported power conversion efficiencies of up to 22 per cent for perovskite solar cells. Improvements in stability have also enabled testing over a timescale of thousands of hours. However, large-scale deployment of such cells will also require the ability to produce large-area, uniformly high-quality perovskite films. A key challenge is to overcome the substantial reduction in power conversion efficiency when a small device is scaled up: a reduction from over 20 per cent to about 10 per cent is found when a common aperture area of about 0.1 square centimetres is increased to more than 25 square centimetres. Here we report a new deposition route for methyl ammonium lead halide perovskite films that does not rely on use of a common solvent or vacuum: rather, it relies on the rapid conversion of amine complex precursors to perovskite films, followed by a pressure application step. The deposited perovskite films were free of pin-holes and highly uniform. Importantly, the new deposition approach can be performed in air at low temperatures, facilitating fabrication of large-area perovskite devices. We reached a certified power conversion efficiency of 12.1 per cent with an aperture area of 36.1 square centimetres for a mesoporous TiO2-based perovskite solar module architecture.



Proteins evolve on the edge of supramolecular self-assembly

2017-08-02

The self-association of proteins into symmetric complexes is ubiquitous in all kingdoms of life. Symmetric complexes possess unique geometric and functional properties, but their internal symmetry can pose a risk. In sickle-cell disease, the symmetry of haemoglobin exacerbates the effect of a mutation, triggering assembly into harmful fibrils. Here we examine the universality of this mechanism and its relation to protein structure geometry. We introduced point mutations solely designed to increase surface hydrophobicity among 12 distinct symmetric complexes from Escherichia coli. Notably, all responded by forming supramolecular assemblies in vitro, as well as in vivo upon heterologous expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Remarkably, in four cases, micrometre-long fibrils formed in vivo in response to a single point mutation. Biophysical measurements and electron microscopy revealed that mutants self-assembled in their folded states and so were not amyloid-like. Structural examination of 73 mutants identified supramolecular assembly hot spots predictable by geometry. A subsequent structural analysis of 7,471 symmetric complexes showed that geometric hot spots were buffered chemically by hydrophilic residues, suggesting a mechanism preventing mis-assembly of these regions. Thus, point mutations can frequently trigger folded proteins to self-assemble into higher-order structures. This potential is counterbalanced by negative selection and can be exploited to design nanomaterials in living cells.



Artificial light at night as a new threat to pollination

2017-08-02

Pollinators are declining worldwide and this has raised concerns for a parallel decline in the essential pollination service they provide to both crops and wild plants. Anthropogenic drivers linked to this decline include habitat changes, intensive agriculture, pesticides, invasive alien species, spread of pathogens and climate change. Recently, the rapid global increase in artificial light at night has been proposed to be a new threat to terrestrial ecosystems; the consequences of this increase for ecosystem function are mostly unknown. Here we show that artificial light at night disrupts nocturnal pollination networks and has negative consequences for plant reproductive success. In artificially illuminated plant–pollinator communities, nocturnal visits to plants were reduced by 62% compared to dark areas. Notably, this resulted in an overall 13% reduction in fruit set of a focal plant even though the plant also received numerous visits by diurnal pollinators. Furthermore, by merging diurnal and nocturnal pollination sub-networks, we show that the structure of these combined networks tends to facilitate the spread of the negative consequences of disrupted nocturnal pollination to daytime pollinator communities. Our findings demonstrate that artificial light at night is a threat to pollination and that the negative effects of artificial light at night on nocturnal pollination are predicted to propagate to the diurnal community, thereby aggravating the decline of the diurnal community. We provide perspectives on the functioning of plant–pollinator communities, showing that nocturnal pollinators are not redundant to diurnal communities and increasing our understanding of the human-induced decline in pollinators and their ecosystem service.



Genetic origins of the Minoans and Mycenaeans

2017-08-02

The origins of the Bronze Age Minoan and Mycenaean cultures have puzzled archaeologists for more than a century. We have assembled genome-wide data from 19 ancient individuals, including Minoans from Crete, Mycenaeans from mainland Greece, and their eastern neighbours from southwestern Anatolia. Here we show that Minoans and Mycenaeans were genetically similar, having at least three-quarters of their ancestry from the first Neolithic farmers of western Anatolia and the Aegean, and most of the remainder from ancient populations related to those of the Caucasus and Iran. However, the Mycenaeans differed from Minoans in deriving additional ancestry from an ultimate source related to the hunter–gatherers of eastern Europe and Siberia, introduced via a proximal source related to the inhabitants of either the Eurasian steppe or Armenia. Modern Greeks resemble the Mycenaeans, but with some additional dilution of the Early Neolithic ancestry. Our results support the idea of continuity but not isolation in the history of populations of the Aegean, before and after the time of its earliest civilizations.



A Braf kinase-inactive mutant induces lung adenocarcinoma

2017-08-02

The initiating oncogenic event in almost half of human lung adenocarcinomas is still unknown, a fact that complicates the development of selective targeted therapies. Yet these tumours harbour a number of alterations without obvious oncogenic function including BRAF-inactivating mutations. Inactivating BRAF mutants in lung predominate over the activating V600E mutant that is frequently observed in other tumour types. Here we demonstrate that the expression of an endogenous Braf(D631A) kinase-inactive isoform in mice (corresponding to the human BRAF(D594A) mutation) triggers lung adenocarcinoma in vivo, indicating that BRAF-inactivating mutations are initiating events in lung oncogenesis. Moreover, inactivating BRAF mutations have also been identified in a subset of KRAS-driven human lung tumours. Co-expression of Kras(G12V) and Braf(D631A) in mouse lung cells markedly enhances tumour initiation, a phenomenon mediated by Craf kinase activity, and effectively accelerates tumour progression when activated in advanced lung adenocarcinomas. We also report a key role for the wild-type Braf kinase in sustaining Kras(G12V)/Braf(D631A)-driven tumours. Ablation of the wild-type Braf allele prevents the development of lung adenocarcinoma by inducing a further increase in MAPK signalling that results in oncogenic toxicity; this effect can be abolished by pharmacological inhibition of Mek to restore tumour growth. However, the loss of wild-type Braf also induces transdifferentiation of club cells, which leads to the rapid development of lethal intrabronchiolar lesions. These observations indicate that the signal intensity of the MAPK pathway is a critical determinant not only in tumour development, but also in dictating the nature of the cancer-initiating cell and ultimately the resulting tumour phenotype.



Metabolic control of TH17 and induced Treg cell balance by an epigenetic mechanism

2017-08-02

Metabolism has been shown to integrate with epigenetics and transcription to modulate cell fate and function. Beyond meeting the bioenergetic and biosynthetic demands of T-cell differentiation, whether metabolism might control T-cell fate by an epigenetic mechanism is unclear. Here, through the discovery and mechanistic characterization of a small molecule, (aminooxy)acetic acid, that reprograms the differentiation of T helper 17 (TH17) cells towards induced regulatory T (iTreg) cells, we show that increased transamination, mainly catalysed by GOT1, leads to increased levels of 2-hydroxyglutarate in differentiating TH17 cells. The accumulation of 2-hydroxyglutarate resulted in hypermethylation of the Foxp3 gene locus and inhibited Foxp3 transcription, which is essential for fate determination towards TH17 cells. Inhibition of the conversion of glutamate to α-ketoglutaric acid prevented the production of 2-hydroxyglutarate, reduced methylation of the Foxp3 gene locus, and increased Foxp3 expression. This consequently blocked the differentiation of TH17 cells by antagonizing the function of transcription factor RORγt and promoted polarization into iTreg cells. Selective inhibition of GOT1 with (aminooxy)acetic acid ameliorated experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis in a therapeutic mouse model by regulating the balance between TH17 and iTreg cells. Targeting a glutamate-dependent metabolic pathway thus represents a new strategy for developing therapeutic agents against TH17-mediated autoimmune diseases.



Tumours with class 3 BRAF mutants are sensitive to the inhibition of activated RAS

2017-08-02

Approximately 200 BRAF mutant alleles have been identified in human tumours. Activating BRAF mutants cause feedback inhibition of GTP-bound RAS, are RAS-independent and signal either as active monomers (class 1) or constitutively active dimers (class 2). Here we characterize a third class of BRAF mutants—those that have impaired kinase activity or are kinase-dead. These mutants are sensitive to ERK-mediated feedback and their activation of signalling is RAS-dependent. The mutants bind more tightly than wild-type BRAF to RAS–GTP, and their binding to and activation of wild-type CRAF is enhanced, leading to increased ERK signalling. The model suggests that dysregulation of signalling by these mutants in tumours requires coexistent mechanisms for maintaining RAS activation despite ERK-dependent feedback. Consistent with this hypothesis, melanomas with these class 3 BRAF mutations also harbour RAS mutations or NF1 deletions. By contrast, in lung and colorectal cancers with class 3 BRAF mutants, RAS is typically activated by receptor tyrosine kinase signalling. These tumours are sensitive to the inhibition of RAS activation by inhibitors of receptor tyrosine kinases. We have thus defined three distinct functional classes of BRAF mutants in human tumours. The mutants activate ERK signalling by different mechanisms that dictate their sensitivity to therapeutic inhibitors of the pathway.



High-temperature crystallization of nanocrystals into three-dimensional superlattices

2017-07-31

Crystallization of colloidal nanocrystals into superlattices represents a practical bottom-up process with which to create ordered metamaterials with emergent functionalities. With precise control over the size, shape and composition of individual nanocrystals, various single- and multi-component nanocrystal superlattices have been produced, the lattice structures and chemical compositions of which can be accurately engineered. Nanocrystal superlattices are typically prepared by carefully controlling the assembly process through solvent evaporation or destabilization or through DNA-guided crystallization. Slow solvent evaporation or cooling of nanocrystal solutions (over hours or days) is the key element for successful crystallization processes. Here we report the rapid growth (seconds) of micrometre-sized, face-centred-cubic, three-dimensional nanocrystal superlattices during colloidal synthesis at high temperatures (more than 230 degrees Celsius). Using in situ small-angle X-ray scattering, we observe continuous growth of individual nanocrystals within the lattices, which results in simultaneous lattice expansion and fine nanocrystal size control due to the superlattice templates. Thermodynamic models demonstrate that balanced attractive and repulsive interparticle interactions dictated by the ligand coverage on nanocrystal surfaces and nanocrystal core size are responsible for the crystallization process. The interparticle interactions can also be controlled to form different superlattice structures, such as hexagonal close-packed lattices. The rational assembly of various nanocrystal systems into novel materials is thus facilitated for both fundamental research and for practical applications in the fields of magnetics, electronics and catalysis.



Ecology: Contests between species aid biodiversity

2017-07-26

A modelling approach used to investigate competition between different species provides insight into how contests that have multiple players can help to maintain biodiversity.



Stem cells: The cost of perpetual youth

2017-07-26

The ability to become nearly any cell type is restricted to eggs, sperm and primitive stem cells in very early embryos. Two studies reveal that maintaining this pluripotent state in vitro comes at a cost.



Prolonged Mek1/2 suppression impairs the developmental potential of embryonic stem cells

2017-07-26

Concomitant activation of the Wnt pathway and suppression of Mapk signalling by two small molecule inhibitors (2i) in the presence of leukaemia inhibitory factor (LIF) (hereafter termed 2i/L) induces a naive state in mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells that resembles the inner cell mass (ICM) of the pre-implantation embryo. Since the ICM exists only transiently in vivo, it remains unclear how sustained propagation of naive ES cells in vitro affects their stability and functionality. Here we show that prolonged culture of male mouse ES cells in 2i/L results in irreversible epigenetic and genomic changes that impair their developmental potential. Furthermore, we find that female ES cells cultured in conventional serum plus LIF medium phenocopy male ES cells cultured in 2i/L. Mechanistically, we demonstrate that the inhibition of Mek1/2 is predominantly responsible for these effects, in part through the downregulation of DNA methyltransferases and their cofactors. Finally, we show that replacement of the Mek1/2 inhibitor with a Src inhibitor preserves the epigenetic and genomic integrity as well as the developmental potential of ES cells. Taken together, our data suggest that, although short-term suppression of Mek1/2 in ES cells helps to maintain an ICM-like epigenetic state, prolonged suppression results in irreversible changes that compromise their developmental potential.



Higher-order interactions stabilize dynamics in competitive network models

2017-07-26

Ecologists have long sought a way to explain how the remarkable biodiversity observed in nature is maintained. On the one hand, simple models of interacting competitors cannot produce the stable persistence of very large ecological communities. On the other hand, neutral models, in which species do not interact and diversity is maintained by immigration and speciation, yield unrealistically small fluctuations in population abundance, and a strong positive correlation between a species’ abundance and its age, contrary to empirical evidence. Models allowing for the robust persistence of large communities of interacting competitors are lacking. Here we show that very diverse communities could persist thanks to the stabilizing role of higher-order interactions, in which the presence of a species influences the interaction between other species. Although higher-order interactions have been studied for decades, their role in shaping ecological communities is still unclear. The inclusion of higher-order interactions in competitive network models stabilizes dynamics, making species coexistence robust to the perturbation of both population abundance and parameter values. We show that higher-order interactions have strong effects in models of closed ecological communities, as well as of open communities in which new species are constantly introduced. In our framework, higher-order interactions are completely defined by pairwise interactions, facilitating empirical parameterization and validation of our models.



Derivation of ground-state female ES cells maintaining gamete-derived DNA methylation

2017-07-26

Inhibitors of Mek1/2 and Gsk3β, known as 2i, enhance the derivation of embryonic stem (ES) cells and promote ground-state pluripotency in rodents. Here we show that the derivation of female mouse ES cells in the presence of 2i and leukaemia inhibitory factor (2i/L ES cells) results in a widespread loss of DNA methylation, including a massive erasure of genomic imprints. Despite this global loss of DNA methylation, early-passage 2i/L ES cells efficiently differentiate into somatic cells, and this process requires genome-wide de novo DNA methylation. However, the majority of imprinting control regions (ICRs) remain unmethylated in 2i/L-ES-cell-derived differentiated cells. Consistently, 2i/L ES cells exhibit impaired autonomous embryonic and placental development by tetraploid embryo complementation or nuclear transplantation. We identified the derivation conditions of female ES cells that display 2i/L-ES-cell-like transcriptional signatures while preserving gamete-derived DNA methylation and autonomous developmental potential. Upon prolonged culture, however, female ES cells exhibited ICR demethylation regardless of culture conditions. Our results provide insights into the derivation of female ES cells reminiscent of the inner cell mass of preimplantation embryos.



No large population of unbound or wide-orbit Jupiter-mass planets

2017-07-24

Planet formation theories predict that some planets may be ejected from their parent systems as result of dynamical interactions and other processes. Unbound planets can also be formed through gravitational collapse, in a way similar to that in which stars form. A handful of free-floating planetary-mass objects have been discovered by infrared surveys of young stellar clusters and star-forming regions as well as wide-field surveys, but these studies are incomplete for objects below five Jupiter masses. Gravitational microlensing is the only method capable of exploring the entire population of free-floating planets down to Mars-mass objects, because the microlensing signal does not depend on the brightness of the lensing object. A characteristic timescale of microlensing events depends on the mass of the lens: the less massive the lens, the shorter the microlensing event. A previous analysis of 474 microlensing events found an excess of ten very short events (1–2 days)—more than known stellar populations would suggest—indicating the existence of a large population of unbound or wide-orbit Jupiter-mass planets (reported to be almost twice as common as main-sequence stars). These results, however, do not match predictions of planet-formation theories and surveys of young clusters. Here we analyse a sample of microlensing events six times larger than that of ref. 11 discovered during the years 2010–15. Although our survey has very high sensitivity (detection efficiency) to short-timescale (1–2 days) microlensing events, we found no excess of events with timescales in this range, with a 95 per cent upper limit on the frequency of Jupiter-mass free-floating or wide-orbit planets of 0.25 planets per main-sequence star. We detected a few possible ultrashort-timescale events (with timescales of less than half a day), which may indicate the existence of Earth-mass and super-Earth-mass free-floating planets, as predicted by planet-formation theories.



Particle physics: Search for neutrinoless double-β decay

2016-09-21

Neutrinos are much lighter than the other constituents of matter. One explanation for this could be that neutrinos are their own antiparticles and belong to a new class of 'Majorana' particle. An experiment sets strong constraints on this scenario.



Human migration: Climate and the peopling of the world

2016-09-21

The human dispersal out of Africa that populated the world was probably paced by climate changes. This is the inference drawn from computer modelling of climate variability during the time of early human migration.



Addendum

2015-06-17