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Journal: Wellcome open research

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Background: Relative blood flow in the two middle cerebral arteries can be measured using functional transcranial Doppler sonography (fTCD) to give an index of lateralisation as participants perform a specific task. Language laterality has mostly been studied with fTCD using a word generation task, but it is not clear whether this is optimal. Methods: Using fTCD, we evaluated a sentence generation task that has shown good reliability and strong left lateralisation in fMRI. We interleaved trials of word generation, sentence generation and list generation and assessed agreement of these tasks in 31 participants (29 right-handers). Results: Although word generation and sentence generation both gave robust left-lateralisation, Bland-Altman analysis showed that these two methods were not equivalent. The comparison list generation task was not systematically lateralised, but nevertheless laterality indices (LIs) from this task were significantly correlated with the other two tasks. Subtracting list generation LI from sentence generation LI did not affect the strength of the laterality index. Conclusions: This was a pre-registered methodological study designed to explore novel approaches to optimising measurement of language lateralisation using fTCD. It confirmed that sentence generation gives robust left lateralisation in most people, but is not equivalent to the classic word generation task. Although list generation does not show left-lateralisation at the group level, the LI on this task was correlated with left-lateralised tasks. This suggests that word and sentence generation involve adding a constant directional bias to an underlying continuum of laterality that is reliable in individuals but not biased in either direction. In future research we suggest that consistency of laterality across tasks might have more functional significance than strength or direction of laterality on any one task.

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Background: The extraction of data from the reports of primary studies, on which the results of systematic reviews depend, needs to be carried out accurately. To aid reliability, it is recommended that two researchers carry out data extraction independently. The extraction of statistical data from graphs in PDF files is particularly challenging, as the process is usually completely manual, and reviewers need sometimes to revert to holding a ruler against the page to read off values: an inherently time-consuming and error-prone process. Methods: To mitigate some of the above problems we integrated and customised two existing JavaScript libraries to create a new web-based graphical data extraction tool to assist reviewers in extracting data from graphs. This tool aims to facilitate more accurate and timely data extraction through a user interface which can be used to extract data through mouse clicks. We carried out a non-inferiority evaluation to examine its performance in comparison with participants' standard practice for extracting data from graphs in PDF documents. Results: We found that the customised graphical data extraction tool is not inferior to users' (N=10) prior standard practice. Our study was not designed to show superiority, but suggests that, on average, participants saved around 6 minutes per graph using the new tool, accompanied by a substantial increase in accuracy. Conclusions: Our study suggests that the incorporation of this type of tool in online systematic review software would be beneficial in facilitating the production of accurate and timely evidence synthesis to improve decision-making.

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Background: Down syndrome (DS) is associated with poor language skills that seem disproportionate to general nonverbal ability, but the nature and causes of this deficit are unclear. We assessed how individuals with DS understand complex linguistic constructions, and considered how cognitive ability and memory and impact the ability of those with DS to process these sentence types. Methods: There were three groups participating in the study: children with DS (n = 33) and two control groups composed of children with cognitive impairment of unknown aetiology (CI) (n = 32) and children with typical development (n = 33). The three groups did not differ on raw scores on a test of non-verbal cognitive ability. Using a newly devised animation task, we examined how well individuals with DS (n = 33) could understand relative clauses, complement clauses and adverbial clauses compared to children with CI and typically developing controls. Participants also completed the Test for the Reception of Grammar-2, three measures of memory (forward and backward digit recall, visuo-spatial memory) and a hearing screen. Results: Results indicated that (1) with the exception of intransitive subject relative clauses, children with DS performed at floor on all other complex sentences, (2) they performed at a significantly lower level than both control groups, and (3) DS status accounted for a significant proportion of the variance over and above memory skills. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that children with DS have a disproportionate difficulty understanding complex sentences compared to two control groups matched on mental age. Furthermore, their understanding of syntax is not completely explained by poor cognitive or memory skills, rather it appears to be a specific deficit that may distinguish children with DS from other neurodevelopmental disorders.

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Background: Genome-wide association studies have identified genetic variants associated with coronary artery disease (CAD) in adults - the leading cause of death worldwide. It often occurs later in life, but variants may impact CAD-relevant phenotypes early and throughout the life-course. Cohorts with longitudinal and genetic data on thousands of individuals are letting us explore the antecedents of this adult disease. Methods: 148 metabolites, with a focus on the lipidome, measured using nuclear magnetic resonance ( 1H-NMR) spectroscopy, and genotype data were available from 5,907 individuals at ages 7, 15, and 17 years from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort. Linear regression was used to assess the association between the metabolites and an adult-derived genetic risk score (GRS) of CAD comprising 146 variants. Individual variant-metabolite associations were also examined. Results: The CAD-GRS associated with 118 of 148 metabolites (false discovery rate [FDR] < 0.05), the strongest associations being with low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and atherogenic non-LDL subgroups. Nine of 146 variants in the GRS associated with one or more metabolites (FDR < 0.05). Seven of these are within lipid loci: rs11591147 PCSK9, rs12149545 HERPUD1-CETP, rs17091891 LPL, rs515135 APOB, rs602633 CELSR2-PSRC1, rs651821 APOA5, rs7412 APOE-APOC1. All associated with metabolites in the LDL or atherogenic non-LDL subgroups or both including aggregate cholesterol measures. The other two variants identified were rs112635299 SERPINA1 and rs2519093 ABO.Conclusions: Genetic variants that influence CAD risk in adults are associated with large perturbations in metabolite levels in individuals as young as seven. The variants identified are mostly within lipid-related loci and the metabolites they associated with are primarily linked to lipoproteins. Along with further research, this knowledge could allow for preventative measures, such as increased monitoring of at-risk individuals and perhaps treatment earlier in life, to be taken years before any symptoms of the disease arise.

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Background: Incentives play a role in introducing health-related benefits, but no interventions using mixed incentives, i.e. a combination of individual and group incentives, have been tested in individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). We evaluated the feasibility of implementing individual- and mixed-incentives, with and without a supportive partner, on glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) control and weight loss among patients with T2DM. Methods: This is a feasibility, sex-stratified, single-blinded, randomized controlled study in individuals with T2DM. All participants received diabetes education and tailored goal setting for weight and glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c). Participants were randomly assigned into three arms: individual incentives (Arm 1), mixed incentives-altruism (Arm 2), and mixed incentives-cooperation (Arm 3). Participants were accompanied by a diabetes educator every other week to monitor targets, and the intervention period lasted 3 months. The primary outcome was the change in HbA1c at 3 months from baseline. Weight and change body mass index (BMI) were considered as secondary outcomes. Results: Out of 783 patients screened, a total of 54 participants, 18 per study arm, were enrolled and 44 (82%) completed the 3-month follow-up. Mean baseline HbA1c values were 8.5%, 7.9% and 8.2% in Arm 1, Arm 2, and Arm 3, respectively. At 3 months, participants in all three study arms showed reductions in HbA1c ranging from -0.9% in Arm 2 to -1.4% in Arm 1. Weight and BMI also showed reductions. Conclusions: Individual and mixed cash incentives show important reductions in HbA1c, weight and BMI in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus after 3 months.  Recruitment and uptake of the intervention were successfully accomplished demonstrating feasibility to conduct larger effectiveness studies to test individual and mixed economic incentives for diabetes management. Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier NCT02891382.

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Background: Mosquito-borne flaviviruses, such as dengue and Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV), cause life-threatening diseases, particularly in the tropics. Methods: Here we performed unbiased metagenomic sequencing of RNA extracted from the serum of four patients and the plasma of one patient, all hospitalized at a tertiary care centre in South India with severe or prolonged febrile illness, together with the serum from one healthy control, in 2014. Results: We identified and assembled a complete dengue virus type 3 sequence from a case of severe dengue fever. We also identified a small number of JEV sequences in the serum of two adults with febrile illness, including one with severe dengue. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that the dengue sequence belonged to genotype III. It has an estimated divergence time of 13.86 years from the most highly related Indian strains. In total, 11 amino acid substitutions were predicted for this strain in the antigenic envelope protein, when compared to the parent strain used for development of the first commercial dengue vaccine.  Conclusions: We demonstrate that both genome assembly and detection of a low number of viral sequences are possible through the unbiased sequencing of clinical material. These methods may help ascertain causal agents for febrile illnesses with no known cause.

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Background: The arbovirus vector, Aedes albopictus, originating from Asia, has recently invaded African countries, including the Republic of the Congo, where it was associated with a chikungunya outbreak. Up until now, little was known about its distribution in relation to the native Aedes aegypti and how the invasion will modify the epidemiology of arboviral diseases. Here, we assessed the current distribution of Ae. albopictus and Ae. aegypti in the Republic of the Congo and explored the genetic diversity of the invading species, Ae. albopictus. Methods: Immature stages of Aedes were collected in nine locations in the Republic of the Congo in 2017 following a north-south transect and reared to adult stage. Adults were morphologically identified, counted and grouped according to species and location. Genetic diversity of Ae. albopictus was assessed by analyzing the cytochrome oxidase I ( COI) gene. Results:Ae.albopictus and Ae. aegypti were found together across the country in all the locations investigated. The invasive species is predominant over the native species in all locations except Brazzaville, suggesting that Ae. albopictus is displacing Ae. aegypti across Congo. When comparing the species distributions across the two largest cities, Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, Ae. albopictus was more prevalent than Ae. aegypti in the suburbs whereas the opposite situation was reported in the city centre. Mitochondrial DNA analysis revealed very low genetic diversity of Ae. albopictus with only three haplotypes recorded across the country supporting the recent introduction of this species in the Republic of the Congo. Phylogenetic tree analysis revealed that Ae. albopictus from Congo originated from other tropical Asian countries such as China, likely as a result of increasing trade links. Conclusion: These findings are important for the implementation of vector control strategies and can serve as a foundation for further research on these vectors in the country.

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Background: Human visceral leishmaniasis, caused by infection with Leishmania donovani or L. infantum, is a potentially fatal disease affecting 50,000-90,000 people yearly in 75 disease endemic countries, with more than 20,000 deaths reported. Experimental models of infection play a major role in understanding parasite biology, host-pathogen interaction, disease pathogenesis, and parasite transmission. In addition, they have an essential role in the identification and pre-clinical evaluation of new drugs and vaccines. However, our understanding of these models remains fragmentary. Although the immune response to Leishmania donovani infection in mice has been extensively characterized, transcriptomic analysis capturing the tissue-specific evolution of disease has yet to be reported. Methods: We provide an analysis of the transcriptome of spleen, liver and peripheral blood of BALB/c mice infected with L. donovani. Where possible, we compare our data in murine experimental visceral leishmaniasis with transcriptomic data in the public domain obtained from the study of L. donovani-infected hamsters and patients with human visceral leishmaniasis. Digitised whole slide images showing the histopathology in spleen and liver are made available via a dedicated website, www.leishpathnet.org. Results: Our analysis confirms marked tissue-specific alterations in the transcriptome of infected mice over time and identifies previously unrecognized parallels and differences between murine, hamster and human responses to infection. We show commonality of interferon-regulated genes whilst confirming a greater activation of type 2 immune pathways in infected hamsters compared to mice. Cytokine genes and genes encoding immune checkpoints were markedly tissue specific and dynamic in their expression, and pathways focused on non-immune cells reflected tissue specific immunopathology. Our data also addresses the value of measuring peripheral blood transcriptomics as a potential window into underlying systemic disease.  Conclusions: Our transcriptomic data, coupled with histopathologic analysis of the tissue response, provide an additional resource to underpin future mechanistic studies and to guide clinical research.

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Background: Malaria parasite species differ greatly in the harm they do to humans. While P. falciparum kills hundreds of thousands per year, P. vivax kills much less often and P. malariae is relatively benign. Strains of the rodent malaria parasite Plasmodium chabaudi show phenotypic variation in virulence during infections of laboratory mice. This make it an excellent species to study genes which may be responsible for this trait. By understanding the mechanisms which underlie differences in virulence we can learn how parasites adapt to their hosts and how we might prevent disease. Methods: Here we present a complete reference genome sequence for a more virulent P. chabaudi strain, PcCB, and perform a detailed comparison with the genome of the less virulent PcAS strain. Results: We found the greatest variation in the subtelomeric regions, in particular amongst the sequences of the pir gene family, which has been associated with virulence and establishment of chronic infection. Despite substantial variation at the sequence level, the repertoire of these genes has been largely maintained, highlighting the requirement for functional conservation as well as diversification in host-parasite interactions. However, a subset of pir genes, previously associated with increased virulence, were more highly expressed in PcCB, suggesting a role for this gene family in virulence differences between strains. We found that core genes involved in red blood cell invasion have been under positive selection and that the more virulent strain has a greater preference for reticulocytes, which has elsewhere been associated with increased virulence. Conclusions: These results provide the basis for a mechanistic understanding of the phenotypic differences between Plasmodium chabaudi strains, which might ultimately be translated into a better understanding of malaria parasites affecting humans.

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Cryptococcal meningitis is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among HIV-infected persons, accounting for 15% of AIDS-related deaths. Visual disturbance is commonly reported, and a wide range of ophthalmic signs may be present on examination. There is limited published literature to date describing the range and incidence of ophthalmic signs in HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis. Nested within the Adjunctive Sertraline for the Treatment of HIV-Associated Cryptococcal Meningitis (ASTRO-CM) trial (ClinicalTrials.gov number: NCT01802385), we conducted an observational study of 696 Ugandan adults with HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis. Patients were screened for visual disturbance and external ophthalmic signs at initial presentation and at follow-up appointments over 18 weeks. Assessment comprised simple clinical history and basic examination and required no specialist equipment. More than a quarter of our cohort demonstrated ocular signs or symptoms, which were observed throughout the study period.  A broad range of ocular signs were demonstrated: these included neurological signs (10.9%), localized ocular pathology (4.5%), and evidence of concurrent systemic disease (12.9%). The range of signs observed demonstrates the complexities of case management in patients with advanced HIV and cryptococcosis and also the importance of basic ocular examination in low resource settings. There remains an urgent need for studies conducting comprehensive ocular examination in patients with HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis; these studies should include formal assessment of visual acuity, slit lamp examination and dilated indirect ophthalmoscopy. Prospective studies should investigate whether there is a correlation between reported visual disturbance and objective signs, in order to further clarify the underlying mechanisms and to guide effective diagnosis, follow-up and management.