Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Signal transduction


This review, one of a series of articles, tries to make sense of optogenetics, a recently developed technology that can be used to control the activity of genetically defined neurons with light. Cells are first genetically engineered to express a light-sensitive opsin, which is typically an ion channel, pump, or G protein-coupled receptor. When engineered cells are then illuminated with light of the correct frequency, opsin-bound retinal undergoes a conformational change that leads to channel opening or pump activation, cell depolarization or hyperpolarization, and neural activation or silencing. Since the advent of optogenetics many different opsin variants have been discovered or engineered, and it is now possible to stimulate or inhibit neuronal activity or intracellular signaling pathways on fast or slow timescales with a variety of different wavelengths of light. Optogenetics has been successfully employed to enhance our understanding of the neural circuit dysfunction underlying mood disorders, addiction, and Parkinson’s disease, and has enabled us to achieve a better understanding of the neural circuits mediating normal behavior. It has revolutionized the field of neuroscience, and has enabled a new generation of experiments that probe the causal roles of specific neural circuit components.

Concepts: Nervous system, DNA, Signal transduction, Cell membrane, Action potential, Neurotransmitter, Membrane potential, Dopamine


Background Effective medical therapies are lacking for the treatment of neurofibromatosis type 1-related plexiform neurofibromas, which are characterized by elevated RAS-mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling. Methods We conducted a phase 1 trial of selumetinib (AZD6244 or ARRY-142886), an oral selective inhibitor of MAPK kinase (MEK) 1 and 2, in children who had neurofibromatosis type 1 and inoperable plexiform neurofibromas to determine the maximum tolerated dose and to evaluate plasma pharmacokinetics. Selumetinib was administered twice daily at a dose of 20 to 30 mg per square meter of body-surface area on a continuous dosing schedule (in 28-day cycles). We also tested selumetinib using a mouse model of neurofibromatosis type 1-related neurofibroma. Response to treatment (i.e., an increase or decrease from baseline in the volume of plexiform neurofibromas) was monitored by using volumetric magnetic resonance imaging analysis to measure the change in size of the plexiform neurofibroma. Results A total of 24 children (median age, 10.9 years; range, 3.0 to 18.5) with a median tumor volume of 1205 ml (range, 29 to 8744) received selumetinib. Patients were able to receive selumetinib on a long-term basis; the median number of cycles was 30 (range, 6 to 56). The maximum tolerated dose was 25 mg per square meter (approximately 60% of the recommended adult dose). The most common toxic effects associated with selumetinib included acneiform rash, gastrointestinal effects, and asymptomatic creatine kinase elevation. The results of pharmacokinetic evaluations of selumetinib among the children in this trial were similar to those published for adults. Treatment with selumetinib resulted in confirmed partial responses (tumor volume decreases from baseline of ≥20%) in 17 of the 24 children (71%) and decreases from baseline in neurofibroma volume in 12 of 18 mice (67%). Disease progression (tumor volume increase from baseline of ≥20%) has not been observed to date. Anecdotal evidence of decreases in tumor-related pain, disfigurement, and functional impairment was observed. Conclusions Our early-phase data suggested that children with neurofibromatosis type 1 and inoperable plexiform neurofibromas benefited from long-term dose-adjusted treatment with selumetinib without having excess toxic effects. (Funded by the National Institutes of Health and others; number, NCT01362803 .).

Concepts: Signal transduction, Brain tumor, Magnetic resonance imaging, Neurology, Area, Neurofibromatosis, Neurofibroma, Dermal and subcutaneous growths


Background Osimertinib is an oral, third-generation, irreversible epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor (EGFR-TKI) that selectively inhibits both EGFR-TKI-sensitizing and EGFR T790M resistance mutations. We compared osimertinib with standard EGFR-TKIs in patients with previously untreated, EGFR mutation-positive advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Methods In this double-blind, phase 3 trial, we randomly assigned 556 patients with previously untreated, EGFR mutation-positive (exon 19 deletion or L858R) advanced NSCLC in a 1:1 ratio to receive either osimertinib (at a dose of 80 mg once daily) or a standard EGFR-TKI (gefitinib at a dose of 250 mg once daily or erlotinib at a dose of 150 mg once daily). The primary end point was investigator-assessed progression-free survival. Results The median progression-free survival was significantly longer with osimertinib than with standard EGFR-TKIs (18.9 months vs. 10.2 months; hazard ratio for disease progression or death, 0.46; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.37 to 0.57; P<0.001). The objective response rate was similar in the two groups: 80% with osimertinib and 76% with standard EGFR-TKIs (odds ratio, 1.27; 95% CI, 0.85 to 1.90; P=0.24). The median duration of response was 17.2 months (95% CI, 13.8 to 22.0) with osimertinib versus 8.5 months (95% CI, 7.3 to 9.8) with standard EGFR-TKIs. Data on overall survival were immature at the interim analysis (25% maturity). The survival rate at 18 months was 83% (95% CI, 78 to 87) with osimertinib and 71% (95% CI, 65 to 76) with standard EGFR-TKIs (hazard ratio for death, 0.63; 95% CI, 0.45 to 0.88; P=0.007 [nonsignificant in the interim analysis]). Adverse events of grade 3 or higher were less frequent with osimertinib than with standard EGFR-TKIs (34% vs. 45%). Conclusions Osimertinib showed efficacy superior to that of standard EGFR-TKIs in the first-line treatment of EGFR mutation-positive advanced NSCLC, with a similar safety profile and lower rates of serious adverse events. (Funded by AstraZeneca; FLAURA number, NCT02296125 .).

Concepts: Epidemiology, Cancer, Signal transduction, Lung cancer, Non-small cell lung carcinoma, Epidermal growth factor receptor, Epidermal growth factor, Adenocarcinoma


Transmissible cancers are clonal lineages that spread through populations via contagious cancer cells. Although rare in nature, two facial tumor clones affect Tasmanian devils. Here we perform comparative genetic and functional characterization of these lineages. The two cancers have similar patterns of mutation and show no evidence of exposure to exogenous mutagens or viruses. Genes encoding PDGF receptors have copy number gains and are present on extrachromosomal double minutes. Drug screening indicates causative roles for receptor tyrosine kinases and sensitivity to inhibitors of DNA repair. Y chromosome loss from a male clone infecting a female host suggests immunoediting. These results imply that Tasmanian devils may have inherent susceptibility to transmissible cancers and present a suite of therapeutic compounds for use in conservation.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Cancer, Mutation, Signal transduction, Mutagen


Regular users of aspirin may have reduced risk of breast cancer. Few studies have addressed whether risk reduction pertains to specific breast cancer subtypes defined jointly by hormone receptor (estrogen and progesterone receptor) and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) expression. This study assessed the prospective risk of breast cancer (overall and by subtype) according to use of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) in a cohort of female public school professionals in California.

Concepts: Immune system, Breast cancer, Signal transduction, Epidermal growth factor receptor, Epidermal growth factor, Growth factor, Estrogen


Background Osimertinib is an epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor (EGFR-TKI) that is selective for both EGFR-TKI sensitizing and T790M resistance mutations in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer. The efficacy of osimertinib as compared with platinum-based therapy plus pemetrexed in such patients is unknown. Methods In this randomized, international, open-label, phase 3 trial, we assigned 419 patients with T790M-positive advanced non-small-cell lung cancer, who had disease progression after first-line EGFR-TKI therapy, in a 2:1 ratio to receive either oral osimertinib (at a dose of 80 mg once daily) or intravenous pemetrexed (500 mg per square meter of body-surface area) plus either carboplatin (target area under the curve, 5 [AUC5]) or cisplatin (75 mg per square meter) every 3 weeks for up to six cycles; maintenance pemetrexed was allowed. In all the patients, disease had progressed during receipt of first-line EGFR-TKI therapy. The primary end point was investigator-assessed progression-free survival. Results The median duration of progression-free survival was significantly longer with osimertinib than with platinum therapy plus pemetrexed (10.1 months vs. 4.4 months; hazard ratio; 0.30; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.23 to 0.41; P<0.001). The objective response rate was significantly better with osimertinib (71%; 95% CI, 65 to 76) than with platinum therapy plus pemetrexed (31%; 95% CI, 24 to 40) (odds ratio for objective response, 5.39; 95% CI, 3.47 to 8.48; P<0.001). Among 144 patients with metastases to the central nervous system (CNS), the median duration of progression-free survival was longer among patients receiving osimertinib than among those receiving platinum therapy plus pemetrexed (8.5 months vs. 4.2 months; hazard ratio, 0.32; 95% CI, 0.21 to 0.49). The proportion of patients with adverse events of grade 3 or higher was lower with osimertinib (23%) than with platinum therapy plus pemetrexed (47%). Conclusions Osimertinib had significantly greater efficacy than platinum therapy plus pemetrexed in patients with T790M-positive advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (including those with CNS metastases) in whom disease had progressed during first-line EGFR-TKI therapy. (Funded by AstraZeneca; AURA3 number, NCT02151981 .).

Concepts: Central nervous system, Epidemiology, Cancer, Signal transduction, Lung cancer, Epidermal growth factor receptor, Epidermal growth factor, Cisplatin


The dopamine D2 receptor (D2R) is involved in food reward and compulsive food intake. The present study developed a virtual screening (VS) method to identify food components, which may modulate D2R signalling. In contrast to their common applications in drug discovery, VS methods are rarely applied for the discovery of bioactive food compounds. Here, databases were created that exclusively contain substances occurring in food and natural sources (about 13,000 different compounds in total) as the basis for combined pharmacophore searching, hit-list clustering and molecular docking into D2R homology models. From 17 compounds finally tested in radioligand assays to determine their binding affinities, seven were classified as hits (hit rate = 41%). Functional properties of the five most active compounds were further examined in β-arrestin recruitment and cAMP inhibition experiments. D2R-promoted G-protein activation was observed for hordenine, a constituent of barley and beer, with approximately identical ligand efficacy as dopamine (76%) and a Ki value of 13 μM. Moreover, hordenine antagonised D2-mediated β-arrestin recruitment indicating functional selectivity. Application of our databases provides new perspectives for the discovery of bioactive food constituents using VS methods. Based on its presence in beer, we suggest that hordenine significantly contributes to mood-elevating effects of beer.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Signal transduction, Receptor antagonist, Dopamine receptor, Agonist, Schizophrenia, Dopamine receptor D2, Adenosine A2A receptor


Background Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) is a mediator of the B-cell-receptor signaling pathway implicated in the pathogenesis of B-cell cancers. In a phase 1 study, ibrutinib, a BTK inhibitor, showed antitumor activity in several types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, including mantle-cell lymphoma. Methods In this phase 2 study, we investigated oral ibrutinib, at a daily dose of 560 mg, in 111 patients with relapsed or refractory mantle-cell lymphoma. Patients were enrolled into two groups: those who had previously received at least 2 cycles of bortezomib therapy and those who had received less than 2 complete cycles of bortezomib or had received no prior bortezomib therapy. The primary end point was the overall response rate. Secondary end points were duration of response, progression-free survival, overall survival, and safety. Results The median age was 68 years, and 86% of patients had intermediate-risk or high-risk mantle-cell lymphoma according to clinical prognostic factors. Patients had received a median of three prior therapies. The most common treatment-related adverse events were mild or moderate diarrhea, fatigue, and nausea. Grade 3 or higher hematologic events were infrequent and included neutropenia (in 16% of patients), thrombocytopenia (in 11%), and anemia (in 10%). A response rate of 68% (75 patients) was observed, with a complete response rate of 21% and a partial response rate of 47%; prior treatment with bortezomib had no effect on the response rate. With an estimated median follow-up of 15.3 months, the estimated median response duration was 17.5 months (95% confidence interval [CI], 15.8 to not reached), the estimated median progression-free survival was 13.9 months (95% CI, 7.0 to not reached), and the median overall survival was not reached. The estimated rate of overall survival was 58% at 18 months. Conclusions Ibrutinib shows durable single-agent efficacy in relapsed or refractory mantle-cell lymphoma. (Funded by Pharmacyclics and others; number, NCT01236391 .).

Concepts: Cancer, Signal transduction, Response rate, Chemotherapy, Protein kinase, Tyrosine kinase, Lymphoma, Blood disorders


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of blindness among the elderly. AMD patients have elevated levels of membrane attack complex (MAC) in their choroidal blood vessels and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). MAC forms pores in cell membranes. Low levels of MAC result in an elevation of cytokine release such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) that promotes the formation of choroidal neovascularization (CNV). High levels of MAC result in cell lysis and RPE degeneration is a hallmark of advanced AMD. The current standard of care for CNV associated with wet AMD is intravitreal injection of anti-VEGF molecules every 4 to 12 weeks. Such injections have significant side effects. Recently, it has been found that membrane pore-forming proteins such as α-haemolysin can mediate their toxic effects through auto- and paracrine signaling and that complement-induced lysis is amplified through ATP release followed by P2X receptor activation. We hypothesized that attenuation of P2X receptor activation may lead to a reduction in MAC deposition and consequent formation of CNV. Hence, in this study we investigated topical application of the purinergic P2X antagonist Pyridoxalphosphate-6-azophenyl-2',4'-disulphonic acid (PPADS) as a potential treatment for AMD. We found that 4.17 µM PPADS inhibited formation of HUVEC master junctions and master segments by 74.7%. In a human complement mediated cell lysis assay, 104 µM PPADS enabled almost complete protection of Hepa1c1c7 cells from 1% normal human serum mediated cell lysis. Daily topical application of 4.17 mM PPADS for 3 days attenuated the progression of laser induced CNV in mice by 41.8% and attenuated the deposition of MAC at the site of the laser injury by 19.7%. Our data have implications for the future treatment of AMD and potentially other ocular disorders involving CNV such as angioid streaks, choroidal rupture and high myopia.

Concepts: Immune system, Protein, Signal transduction, Cell membrane, Retina, Macular degeneration, Bruch's membrane, Drusen


G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) play essential roles in various physiological processes, and are widely targeted by pharmaceutical drugs. Despite their importance, studying GPCRs has been problematic due to difficulties in isolating large quantities of these membrane proteins in forms that retain their ligand binding capabilities. Creating water-soluble variants of GPCRs by mutating the exterior, transmembrane residues provides a potential method to overcome these difficulties. Here we present the first study involving the computational design, expression and characterization of water-soluble variant of a human GPCR, the human mu opioid receptor (MUR), which is involved in pain and addiction. An atomistic structure of the transmembrane domain was built using comparative (homology) modeling and known GPCR structures. This structure was highly similar to the subsequently determined structure of the murine receptor and was used to computationally design 53 mutations of exterior residues in the transmembrane region, yielding a variant intended to be soluble in aqueous media. The designed variant expressed in high yield in Escherichia coli and was water soluble. The variant shared structural and functionally related features with the native human MUR, including helical secondary structure and comparable affinity for the antagonist naltrexone (K d  = 65 nM). The roles of cholesterol and disulfide bonds on the stability of the receptor variant were also investigated. This study exemplifies the potential of the computational approach to produce water-soluble variants of GPCRs amenable for structural and functionally related characterization in aqueous solution.

Concepts: Protein, Signal transduction, Cell membrane, Receptor, Opioid receptor, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Solutions