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

Journal: EMBO molecular medicine


Taxanes are a leading cause of severe and often permanent chemotherapy-induced alopecia. As the underlying pathobiology of taxane chemotherapy-induced alopecia remains poorly understood, we investigated how paclitaxel and docetaxel damage human scalp hair follicles in a clinically relevant ex vivo organ culture model. Paclitaxel and docetaxel induced massive mitotic defects and apoptosis in transit amplifying hair matrix keratinocytes and within epithelial stem/progenitor cell-rich outer root sheath compartments, including within Keratin 15+ cell populations, thus implicating direct damage to stem/progenitor cells as an explanation for the severity and permanence of taxane chemotherapy-induced alopecia. Moreover, by administering the CDK4/6 inhibitor palbociclib, we show that transit amplifying and stem/progenitor cells can be protected from paclitaxel cytotoxicity through G1 arrest, without premature catagen induction and additional hair follicle damage. Thus, the current study elucidates the pathobiology of taxane chemotherapy-induced alopecia, highlights the paramount importance of epithelial stem/progenitor cell-protective therapy in taxane-based oncotherapy, and provides preclinical proof-of-principle in a healthy human (mini-) organ that G1 arrest therapy can limit taxane-induced tissue damage.


We show that elevated levels of Ret receptor are found in different sub-types of human breast cancers and that high Ret correlates with decreased metastasis-free survival. The role of Ret in ER+ breast cancer models was explored combining in vitro and in vivo approaches. Our analyses revealed that ligand-induced Ret activation: (i) stimulates migration of breast cancer cells; (ii) rescues cells from anti-proliferative effects of endocrine treatment and (iii) stimulates expression of cytokines in the presence of endocrine agents. Indeed, we uncovered a positive feed-forward loop between the inflammatory cytokine IL6 and Ret that links them at the expression and the functional level. In vivo inhibition of Ret in a metastatic breast cancer model inhibits tumour outgrowth and metastatic potential. Ret inhibition blocks the feed-forward loop by down-regulating Ret levels, as well as decreasing activity of Fak, an integrator of IL6-Ret signalling. Our results suggest that Ret kinase should be considered as a novel therapeutic target in subsets of breast cancer.

Concepts: Cancer, Breast cancer, Metastasis, Oncology, Cancer staging, Estrogen, Chemotherapy, Cancer support group


Aging is a complex process that is linked to an increased incidence of major diseases such as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease, but also cancer and immune disorders. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs, which post-transcriptionally control gene expression by inhibiting translation or inducing degradation of targeted mRNAs. MiRNAs target up to hundreds of mRNAs, thereby modulating gene expression patterns. Many miRNAs appear to be dysregulated during cellular senescence, aging and disease. However, only few miRNAs have been so far linked to age-related changes in cellular and organ functions. The present article will discuss these findings, specifically focusing on the cardiovascular and neurological systems.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Cancer, Death, Senescence, Messenger RNA, Non-coding RNA


Direct conversion of human fibroblasts into mature and functional neurons, termed induced neurons (iNs), was achieved for the first time 6 years ago. This technology offers a promising shortcut for obtaining patient- and disease-specific neurons for disease modeling, drug screening, and other biomedical applications. However, fibroblasts from adult donors do not reprogram as easily as fetal donors, and no current reprogramming approach is sufficiently efficient to allow the use of this technology using patient-derived material for large-scale applications. Here, we investigate the difference in reprogramming requirements between fetal and adult human fibroblasts and identify REST as a major reprogramming barrier in adult fibroblasts. Via functional experiments where we overexpress and knockdown the REST-controlled neuron-specific microRNAs miR-9 and miR-124, we show that the effect of REST inhibition is only partially mediated via microRNA up-regulation. Transcriptional analysis confirmed that REST knockdown activates an overlapping subset of neuronal genes as microRNA overexpression and also a distinct set of neuronal genes that are not activated via microRNA overexpression. Based on this, we developed an optimized one-step method to efficiently reprogram dermal fibroblasts from elderly individuals using a single-vector system and demonstrate that it is possible to obtain iNs of high yield and purity from aged individuals with a range of familial and sporadic neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, as well as Alzheimer’s disease.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Nervous system, Neuron, Gene, RNA, Fibroblast, Neurodegenerative disorders, Acetylcholine


Hematopoiesis, or the process of blood cell production, is a paradigm of multi-lineage cellular differentiation that has been extensively studied, yet in many aspects remains incompletely understood. Nearly all clinically measured hematopoietic traits exhibit extensive variation and are highly heritable, underscoring the importance of genetic variation in these processes. This review explores how human genetics have illuminated our understanding of hematopoiesis in health and disease. The study of rare mutations in blood and immune disorders has elucidated novel roles for regulators of hematopoiesis and uncovered numerous important molecular pathways, as seen through examples such as Diamond-Blackfan anemia and the GATA2 deficiency syndromes. Additionally, population studies of common genetic variation have revealed mechanisms by which human hematopoiesis can be modulated. We discuss advances in functionally characterizing common variants associated with blood cell traits and discuss therapeutic insights, such as the discovery of BCL11A as a modulator of fetal hemoglobin expression. Finally, as genetic techniques continue to evolve, we discuss the prospects, challenges, and unanswered questions that lie ahead in this burgeoning field.


The delivery of genetic information has emerged as a valid therapeutic approach. Various reports have demonstrated that mRNA, besides its remarkable potential as vaccine, can also promote expression without inducing an adverse immune response against the encoded protein. In the current study, we set out to explore whether our technology based on chemically unmodified mRNA is suitable for passive immunization. To this end, various antibodies using different designs were expressed and characterized in vitro and in vivo in the fields of viral infections, toxin exposure, and cancer immunotherapies. Single injections of mRNA-lipid nanoparticle (LNP) were sufficient to establish rapid, strong, and long-lasting serum antibody titers in vivo, thereby enabling both prophylactic and therapeutic protection against lethal rabies infection or botulinum intoxication. Moreover, therapeutic mRNA-mediated antibody expression allowed mice to survive an otherwise lethal tumor challenge. In conclusion, the present study demonstrates the utility of formulated mRNA as a potent novel technology for passive immunization.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Infectious disease, Bacteria, Vaccination, Infection, Immunology, Rabies


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is currently incurable, but there is general agreement that a minimally invasive blood biomarker for screening in preclinical stages would be crucial for future therapy. Diagnostic tools for detection of AD are either invasive like cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biomarkers or expensive such as positron emission tomography (PET) scanning. Here, we determine the secondary structure change of amyloid-β (Aβ) in human blood. This change used as blood amyloid biomarker indicates prodromal AD and correlates with CSF AD biomarkers and amyloid PET imaging in the cross-sectional BioFINDER cohort. In a further population-based longitudinal cohort (ESTHER), the blood biomarker detected AD several years before clinical diagnosis in baseline samples with a positive likelihood ratio of 7.9; that is, those who were diagnosed with AD over the years were 7.9 times more likely to test positive. This assay may open avenues for blood screening of early AD stages as a funnel for further more invasive and expensive tests.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Medical imaging, Positron emission tomography, Neuroimaging, Positron, Medical tests, Positron emission, Fluorine-18


There is a lot of interest brewing as to why Japan has such low numbers of confirmed infected cases of the COVID19 disease, caused by the SARS-COV-2 virus (Figure. 1), despite its high population density (over 6,100 persons/sqkm in Tokyo, 2.4 times higher than New York City) and large percentage of high-risk individuals over 65 years of age (about 26%, compared with 15% in the USA). In Singapore and Hong Kong, rapid and strict quarantine rules and contact tracing has helped to “flatten the curve”.


Mice with the C3H background show greater behavioral propensity for schizophrenia, including lower prepulse inhibition (PPI), than C57BL/6 (B6) mice. To characterize as-yet-unknown pathophysiologies of schizophrenia, we undertook proteomics analysis of the brain in these strains, and detected elevated levels of Mpst, a hydrogen sulfide (H2 S)/polysulfide-producing enzyme, and greater sulfide deposition in C3H than B6 mice. Mpst-deficient mice exhibited improved PPI with reduced storage sulfide levels, while Mpst-transgenic (Tg) mice showed deteriorated PPI, suggesting that “sulfide stress” may be linked to PPI impairment. Analysis of human samples demonstrated that the H2 S/polysulfides production system is upregulated in schizophrenia. Mechanistically, the Mpst-Tg brain revealed dampened energy metabolism, while maternal immune activation model mice showed upregulation of genes for H2 S/polysulfides production along with typical antioxidative genes, partly via epigenetic modifications. These results suggest that inflammatory/oxidative insults in early brain development result in upregulated H2 S/polysulfides production as an antioxidative response, which in turn cause deficits in bioenergetic processes. Collectively, this study presents a novel aspect of the neurodevelopmental theory for schizophrenia, unraveling a role of excess H2 S/polysulfides production.


Age-related macular degeneration in its neovascular form (NV AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss among adults above the age of 60. Epidemiological data suggest that in men, overall abdominal obesity is the second most important environmental risk factor after smoking for progression to late-stage NV AMD To date, the mechanisms that underscore this observation remain ill-defined. Given the impact of high-fat diets on gut microbiota, we investigated whether commensal microbes influence the evolution of AMD Using mouse models of NV AMD, microbiotal transplants, and other paradigms that modify the gut microbiome, we uncoupled weight gain from confounding factors and demonstrate that high-fat diets exacerbate choroidal neovascularization (CNV) by altering gut microbiota. Gut dysbiosis leads to heightened intestinal permeability and chronic low-grade inflammation characteristic of inflammaging with elevated production of IL-6, IL-1β, TNF-α, and VEGF-A that ultimately aggravate pathological angiogenesis.

Concepts: Inflammation, Epidemiology, Bacteria, Gut flora, Obesity, Typography, Macular degeneration, Choroidal neovascularization