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Journal: Nature biotechnology


We have developed a deep generative model, generative tensorial reinforcement learning (GENTRL), for de novo small-molecule design. GENTRL optimizes synthetic feasibility, novelty, and biological activity. We used GENTRL to discover potent inhibitors of discoidin domain receptor 1 (DDR1), a kinase target implicated in fibrosis and other diseases, in 21 days. Four compounds were active in biochemical assays, and two were validated in cell-based assays. One lead candidate was tested and demonstrated favorable pharmacokinetics in mice.


Nanoscale robots have potential as intelligent drug delivery systems that respond to molecular triggers. Using DNA origami we constructed an autonomous DNA robot programmed to transport payloads and present them specifically in tumors. Our nanorobot is functionalized on the outside with a DNA aptamer that binds nucleolin, a protein specifically expressed on tumor-associated endothelial cells, and the blood coagulation protease thrombin within its inner cavity. The nucleolin-targeting aptamer serves both as a targeting domain and as a molecular trigger for the mechanical opening of the DNA nanorobot. The thrombin inside is thus exposed and activates coagulation at the tumor site. Using tumor-bearing mouse models, we demonstrate that intravenously injected DNA nanorobots deliver thrombin specifically to tumor-associated blood vessels and induce intravascular thrombosis, resulting in tumor necrosis and inhibition of tumor growth. The nanorobot proved safe and immunologically inert in mice and Bama miniature pigs. Our data show that DNA nanorobots represent a promising strategy for precise drug delivery in cancer therapy.

Concepts: Heart, Inflammation, DNA, Nanotechnology, Coagulation, Endothelium, Blood, Blood vessel


Blood pressure regulation is known to be maintained by a neuro-endocrine circuit, but whether immune cells contribute to blood pressure homeostasis has not been determined. We previously showed that CD4(+) T lymphocytes that express choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), which catalyzes the synthesis of the vasorelaxant acetylcholine, relay neural signals. Here we show that these CD4(+)CD44(hi)CD62L(lo) T helper cells by gene expression are a distinct T-cell population defined by ChAT (CD4 TChAT). Mice lacking ChAT expression in CD4(+) cells have elevated arterial blood pressure, compared to littermate controls. Jurkat T cells overexpressing ChAT (JTChAT) decreased blood pressure when infused into mice. Co-incubation of JTChAT and endothelial cells increased endothelial cell levels of phosphorylated endothelial nitric oxide synthase, and of nitrates and nitrites in conditioned media, indicating increased release of the potent vasorelaxant nitric oxide. The isolation and characterization of CD4 TChAT cells will enable analysis of the role of these cells in hypotension and hypertension, and may suggest novel therapeutic strategies by targeting cell-mediated vasorelaxation.

Concepts: Nitric oxide synthase, Gene, Atherosclerosis, Blood pressure, Nitric oxide, Immune system, White blood cell, T helper cell


A lack of techniques to image multiple genomic loci in living cells has limited our ability to investigate chromosome dynamics. Here we describe CRISPRainbow, a system for labeling DNA in living cells based on nuclease-dead (d) Cas9 combined with engineered single guide RNA (sgRNA) scaffolds that bind sets of fluorescent proteins. We demonstrate simultaneous imaging of up to six chromosomal loci in individual live cells and document large differences in the dynamic properties of different chromosomal loci.

Concepts: Protein, RNA, Bacteria, Cell, Chromosome, Cell nucleus, DNA, Gene


Differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells to small brain-like structures known as brain organoids offers an unprecedented opportunity to model human brain development and disease. To provide a vascularized and functional in vivo model of brain organoids, we established a method for transplanting human brain organoids into the adult mouse brain. Organoid grafts showed progressive neuronal differentiation and maturation, gliogenesis, integration of microglia, and growth of axons to multiple regions of the host brain. In vivo two-photon imaging demonstrated functional neuronal networks and blood vessels in the grafts. Finally, in vivo extracellular recording combined with optogenetics revealed intragraft neuronal activity and suggested graft-to-host functional synaptic connectivity. This combination of human neural organoids and an in vivo physiological environment in the animal brain may facilitate disease modeling under physiological conditions.

Concepts: Pluripotency, Synapse, Human brain, Brain, Stem cell, Neuron, Developmental biology, Nervous system


Gene drive systems that enable super-Mendelian inheritance of a transgene have the potential to modify insect populations over a timeframe of a few years. We describe CRISPR-Cas9 endonuclease constructs that function as gene drive systems in Anopheles gambiae, the main vector for malaria. We identified three genes (AGAP005958, AGAP011377 and AGAP007280) that confer a recessive female-sterility phenotype upon disruption, and inserted into each locus CRISPR-Cas9 gene drive constructs designed to target and edit each gene. For each targeted locus we observed a strong gene drive at the molecular level, with transmission rates to progeny of 91.4 to 99.6%. Population modeling and cage experiments indicate that a CRISPR-Cas9 construct targeting one of these loci, AGAP007280, meets the minimum requirement for a gene drive targeting female reproduction in an insect population. These findings could expedite the development of gene drives to suppress mosquito populations to levels that do not support malaria transmission.

Concepts: Allele, Biology, Genetics, Gene, Anopheles gambiae, Mosquito, Malaria, Anopheles


The heartbeat originates within the sinoatrial node (SAN), a small structure containing <10,000 genuine pacemaker cells. If the SAN fails, the ∼5 billion working cardiomyocytes downstream of it become quiescent, leading to circulatory collapse in the absence of electronic pacemaker therapy. Here we demonstrate conversion of rodent cardiomyocytes to SAN cells in vitro and in vivo by expression of Tbx18, a gene critical for early SAN specification. Within days of in vivo Tbx18 transduction, 9.2% of transduced, ventricular cardiomyocytes develop spontaneous electrical firing physiologically indistinguishable from that of SAN cells, along with morphological and epigenetic features characteristic of SAN cells. In vivo, focal Tbx18 gene transfer in the guinea-pig ventricle yields ectopic pacemaker activity, correcting a bradycardic disease phenotype. Myocytes transduced in vivo acquire the cardinal tapering morphology and physiological automaticity of native SAN pacemaker cells. The creation of induced SAN pacemaker (iSAN) cells opens new prospects for bioengineered pacemakers.

Concepts: Cardiac anatomy, Cardiac electrophysiology, Cardiology, Artificial pacemaker, Gene, Sinoatrial node, Heart, Cardiac pacemaker


Staphylococcus aureus and other staphylococci continue to cause life-threatening infections in both hospital and community settings. They have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, especially β-lactams and aminoglycosides, and their infections are now, in many cases, untreatable. Here we present a non-antibiotic, non-phage method of treating staphylococcal infections by engineering of the highly mobile staphylococcal pathogenicity islands (SaPIs). We replaced the SaPIs' toxin genes with antibacterial cargos to generate antibacterial drones (ABDs) that target the infecting bacteria in the animal host, express their cargo, kill or disarm the bacteria and thus abrogate the infection. Here we have constructed ABDs with either a CRISPR-Cas9 bactericidal or a CRISPR-dCas9 virulence-blocking module. We show that both ABDs block the development of a murine subcutaneous S. aureus abscess and that the bactericidal module rescues mice given a lethal dose of S. aureus intraperitoneally.


Because there are currently no biological treatments for hearing loss, we sought to advance gene therapy approaches to treat genetic deafness. We focused on Usher syndrome, a devastating genetic disorder that causes blindness, balance disorders and profound deafness, and studied a knock-in mouse model, Ush1c c.216G>A, for Usher syndrome type IC (USH1C). As restoration of complex auditory and balance function is likely to require gene delivery systems that target auditory and vestibular sensory cells with high efficiency, we delivered wild-type Ush1c into the inner ear of Ush1c c.216G>A mice using a synthetic adeno-associated viral vector, Anc80L65, shown to transduce 80-90% of sensory hair cells. We demonstrate recovery of gene and protein expression, restoration of sensory cell function, rescue of complex auditory function and recovery of hearing and balance behavior to near wild-type levels. The data represent unprecedented recovery of inner ear function and suggest that biological therapies to treat deafness may be suitable for translation to humans with genetic inner ear disorders.

Concepts: Biology, Cochlea, Vestibular system, Genetics, Auditory system, Inner ear, DNA, Gene


Manufacturing processes for biological molecules in the research laboratory have failed to keep pace with the rapid advances in automization and parellelization. We report the development of a digital-to-biological converter for fully automated, versatile and demand-based production of functional biologics starting from DNA sequence information. Specifically, DNA templates, RNA molecules, proteins and viral particles were produced in an automated fashion from digitally transmitted DNA sequences without human intervention.

Concepts: Genetics, DNA sequencing, Manufacturing, DNA sequence, RNA, Molecular biology, Gene, DNA