Cellular responses to DNA damage are crucial for maintaining homeostasis and preventing the development of cancer. Our understanding of the DNA-damage response has evolved: whereas previously the focus was on DNA repair, we now appreciate that the response to DNA lesions involves a complex, highly branched signaling network. Defects in this response lead to severely debilitating, cancer-predisposing ‘genomic instability syndromes’. Double strand breaks (DSBs) in DNA are potent triggers of the DNA-damage response, which is why they are used to study this pathway. The chief transducer of the DSB signal is the nuclear protein kinase ataxia-telangiectasia mutated (ATM). Genetic, biochemical and structural studies have recently provided insights into the ATM-mediated DSB response, reshaping our view of this signaling pathway while raising new questions.
Carbonic anhydrase isoform IX (CA IX) is highly overexpressed in many types of cancer. Its expression, which is regulated by the HIF-1 transcription factor, is strongly induced by hypoxia and correlates with a poor response to classical chemo- and radiotherapies. CA IX contributes to acidification of the tumor environment by efficiently catalyzing the hydration of carbon dioxide to bicarbonate and protons, thereby leading to acquisition of metastasic phenotypes and chemoresistance to weakly basic anticancer drugs. Inhibition of this enzymatic activity by specific inhibitors, such as the sulfonamide indisulam, reverts these processes, establishing a clear-cut role for CA IX in tumorigenesis. Thus, selective CA IX inhibitors could prove useful for elucidating the role of CA IX in hypoxic cancers, for controlling the pH imbalance in tumor cells and for developing diagnostic or therapeutic applications for tumor management. Indeed, fluorescent inhibitors and membrane-impermeant sulfonamides have recently been used as proof-of-concept tools, demonstrating that CA IX is an interesting target for anticancer drug development.
One of the most distinguishing features of the adult human brain is the complexity and diversity of its cortical astrocytes. Human protoplasmic astrocytes manifest a threefold larger diameter and have tenfold more primary processes than those of rodents. In all mammals, protoplasmic astrocytes are organized into spatially non-overlapping domains that encompass both neurons and vasculature. Yet unique to humans and primates are additional populations of layer 1 interlaminar astrocytes that extend long (millimeter) fibers, and layer 5–6 polarized astrocytes that also project distinctive long processes. We propose that human cortical evolution has been accompanied by increasing complexity in the form and function of astrocytes, which reflects an expansion of their functional roles in synaptic modulation and cortical circuitry.
Multidrug and toxic compound extrusion (MATE) proteins, comprising the most recently designated family of multidrug transporter proteins, are widely distributed in all kingdoms of living organisms, although their function is far from understood. The bacterial MATE-type transporters that have been characterized function as exporters of cationic drugs, such as norfloxacin and ethidium, through H or Na exchange. Plant MATE-type transporters are involved in the detoxification of secondary metabolites, including alkaloids. Mammalian MATE-type transporters are responsible for the final step in the excretion of metabolic waste and xenobiotic organic cations in the kidney and liver through electroneutral exchange of H . Thus, we propose that members of the MATE family are organic cation exporters that excrete metabolic or xenobiotic organic cations from the body.
Increasing evidence suggests that some cannabinoids mediate their effects independently of the known cannabinoid CB and CB receptors. Two recently published patents indicate that several cannabinoid receptor ligands also bind to the orphan G-protein-coupled receptor GPR55. This receptor is reported to be expressed in several tissues and might function in lipid or vascular biology. Thus, GPR55 might represent a new cannabinoid receptor.
Intermediate filaments (IFs) are major components of the mammalian cytoskeleton. They are among the most abundant cellular phosphoproteins; their phosphorylation typically involves multiple sites at repeat or unique motifs, preferentially within the ‘head’ or ‘tail’ domains. Phosphorylation and dephosphorylation are essential for the regulation of IF dynamics by modulating the intrinsic properties of IFs: solubility, conformation and filament organization, and, in addition, for the regulation of other IF post-translational modifications. These phosphorylation-regulated properties dictate generalized and context-dependent IF functions that reflect their tissue-specific expression. Most important among IF phosphorylation-mediated functions are the regulation of IF cellular or subcellular compartmentalization, levels and turnover, binding with associated proteins, susceptibility to cell stresses (including apoptosis), tissue-specific functions and IF-associated disease pathogenesis (where IF hyperphosphorylation also serves as a tissue-injury marker).
In recent years, dopamine has emerged as a key neurotransmitter that is crucially involved in incentive motivation and reinforcement learning. Dopamine release is evoked by rewards. The extensive divergence of outputs from a small number of dopaminergic neurons suggests a spatially nonselective action of dopamine, but it reinforces the specific actions that led to reward. How is this achieved? We propose that the selectivity of dopamine effects is achieved by the timing of dopamine release in relation to the activity of glutamatergic synapses, rather than by spatial localization of the dopamine signal to specific synaptic contacts. The synaptic mechanisms of these actions are unknown but reduced levels of dopamine, for example in Parkinson's disease, leads to a paucity of behavioural output, whereas its excess production has been associated with psychiatric problems. Clearly, there are therapeutic imperatives that require a better understanding of how dopamine functions at a synaptic level.
The past few years have witnessed intense research into the biological significance of carbon monoxide (CO) as an essential signaling mediator in cells and tissues. To transduce the signal properly, CO must react selectively with functional and structural proteins containing moieties that show preferred reactivity towards this gaseous molecule. This selectivity is exemplified by the interaction of CO with iron- and heme-dependent proteins, although systems containing other transition metals can potentially become a preferential target for CO. Notably, transition metal carbonyls, which carry and liberate CO, are also emerging as a pharmacological tool to mimic the bioactivity of endogenously generated CO. Thus, exploring how CO binding to metal complexes is translated into a cytoprotective function is a challenging task and might open up opportunities for therapeutic applications based on CO delivery.
In recent years, the most common pharmacological treatment for Alzheimer's disease (AD) has been acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition. However, this single-target approach has limited effectiveness and there is evidence that a multitarget approach might be more effective. Huperzine A (HupA), a novel alkaloid isolated from a Chinese herb, has neuroprotective effects that go beyond the inhibition of AChE. Recent data have demonstrated that HupA can ameliorate the learning and memory deficiency in animal models and AD patients. Its potentially beneficial actions include modification of β-amyloid peptide processing, reduction of oxidative stress, neuronal protection against apoptosis, and regulation of the expression and secretion of nerve growth factor (NGF) and NGF signaling.
In , the multi-enzyme RNA degradosome contributes to the global, posttranscriptional regulation of gene expression. The degradosome components are recognized through natively unstructured ‘microdomains’ comprising as few as 15–40 amino acids. Consequently, the degradosome might experience a comparatively smaller number of evolutionary constraints, because there is little requirement to maintain a folded state for the interaction sites. New regulatory properties of the degradosome could arise with relative rapidity, because partners that modify its function could be recruited by quickly evolving microdomains. The unusual combination of the centrality of RNA degradation in gene expression and the generality of natively unstructured microdomains in recognition can fortuitously confer a capacity for efficacious adaptive change to degradosome-like assemblies in eubacteria.