Radiologists and space experts to develop imaging tools for space missions

The French Society of Radiology (SFR) and the country’s national centre for space exploration (CNES) have signed a partnership, details of which were streamed live at the Journées Francophones de Radiologie (JFR) congress on 4 October. The aim is to develop imaging solutions to be sent on space flights and to collaborate on image collection and optimization, teleradiology and training of astronauts.

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Chromosome number evolves at equal rates in holocentric and monocentric clades

by Sarah N. Ruckman, Michelle M. Jonika, Claudio Casola, Heath Blackmon

Despite the fundamental role of centromeres two different types are observed across plants and animals. Monocentric chromosomes possess a single region that function as the centromere while in holocentric chromosomes centromere activity is spread across the entire chromosome. Proper segregation may fail in species with monocentric chromosomes after a fusion or fission, which may lead to chromosomes with no centromere or multiple centromeres. In contrast, species with holocentric chromosomes should still be able to safely segregate chromosomes after fusion or fission. This along with the observation of high chromosome number in some holocentric clades has led to the hypothesis that holocentricity leads to higher rates of chromosome number evolution. To test for differences in rates of chromosome number evolution between these systems, we analyzed data from 4,393 species of insects in a phylogenetic framework. We found that insect orders exhibit striking differences in rates of fissions, fusions, and polyploidy. However, across all insects we found no evidence that holocentric clades have higher rates of fissions, fusions, or polyploidy than monocentric clades. Our results suggest that holocentricity alone does not lead to higher rates of chromosome number changes. Instead, we suggest that other co-evolving traits must explain striking differences between clades.

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Refractory density model of cortical direction selectivity: Lagged-nonlagged, transient-sustained, and On-Off thalamic neuron-based mechanisms and intracortical amplification

by Anton Chizhov, Natalia Merkulyeva

A biophysically detailed description of the mechanisms of the primary vision is still being developed. We have incorporated a simplified, filter-based description of retino-thalamic visual signal processing into the detailed, conductance-based refractory density description of the neuronal population activity of the primary visual cortex. We compared four mechanisms of the direction selectivity (DS), three of them being based on asymmetrical projections of different types of thalamic neurons to the cortex, distinguishing between (i) lagged and nonlagged, (ii) transient and sustained, and (iii) On and Off neurons. The fourth mechanism implies a lack of subcortical bias and is an epiphenomenon of intracortical interactions between orientation columns. The simulations of the cortical response to moving gratings have verified that first three mechanisms provide DS to an extent compared with experimental data and that the biophysical model realistically reproduces characteristics of the visual cortex activity, such as membrane potential, firing rate, and synaptic conductances. The proposed model reveals the difference between the mechanisms of both the intact and the silenced cortex, favoring the second mechanism. In the fourth case, DS is weaker but significant; it completely vanishes in the silenced cortex.DS in the On-Off mechanism derives from the nonlinear interactions within the orientation map. Results of simulations can help to identify a prevailing mechanism of DS in V1. This is a step towards a comprehensive biophysical modeling of the primary visual system in the frameworks of the population rate coding concept.

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Forecasting influenza in Europe using a metapopulation model incorporating cross-border commuting and air travel

by Sarah C. Kramer, Sen Pei, Jeffrey Shaman

Past work has shown that models incorporating human travel can improve the quality of influenza forecasts. Here, we develop and validate a metapopulation model of twelve European countries, in which international translocation of virus is driven by observed commuting and air travel flows, and use this model to generate influenza forecasts in conjunction with incidence data from the World Health Organization. We find that, although the metapopulation model fits the data well, it offers no improvement over isolated models in forecast quality. We discuss several potential reasons for these results. In particular, we note the need for data that are more comparable from country to country, and offer suggestions as to how surveillance systems might be improved to achieve this goal.

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Exploring the sequence fitness landscape of a bridge between protein folds

by Pengfei Tian, Robert B. Best

Most foldable protein sequences adopt only a single native fold. Recent protein design studies have, however, created protein sequences which fold into different structures apon changes of environment, or single point mutation, the best characterized example being the switch between the folds of the GA and GB binding domains of streptococcal protein G. To obtain further insight into the design of sequences which can switch folds, we have used a computational model for the fitness landscape of a single fold, built from the observed sequence variation of protein homologues. We have recently shown that such coevolutionary models can be used to design novel foldable sequences. By appropriately combining two of these models to describe the joint fitness landscape of GA and GB, we are able to describe the propensity of a given sequence for each of the two folds. We have successfully tested the combined model against the known series of designed GA/GB hybrids. Using Monte Carlo simulations on this landscape, we are able to identify pathways of mutations connecting the two folds. In the absence of a requirement for domain stability, the most frequent paths go via sequences in which neither domain is stably folded, reminiscent of the propensity for certain intrinsically disordered proteins to fold into different structures according to context. Even if the folded state is required to be stable, we find that there is nonetheless still a wide range of sequences which are close to the transition region and therefore likely fold switches, consistent with recent estimates that fold switching may be more widespread than had been thought.

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Visually guided homing of bumblebees in ambiguous situations: A behavioural and modelling study

by Charlotte Doussot, Olivier J. N. Bertrand, Martin Egelhaaf

Returning home is a crucial task accomplished daily by many animals, including humans. Because of their tiny brains, insects, like bees or ants, are good study models for efficient navigation strategies. Bees and ants are known to rely mainly on learned visual information about the nest surroundings to pinpoint their barely visible nest-entrance. During the return, when the actual sight of the insect matches the learned information, the insect is easily guided home. Occasionally, modifications to the visual environment may take place while the insect is on a foraging trip. Here, we addressed the ecologically relevant question of how bumblebees’ homing is affected by such a situation. In an artificial setting, we habituated bees to be guided to their nest by two constellations of visual cues. After habituation, these cues were displaced during foraging trips into a conflict situation. We recorded bumblebees’ return flights in such circumstances and investigated where they search for their nest entrance following the degree of displacement between the two visually relevant cues. Bumblebees mostly searched at the fictive nest location as indicated by either cue constellation, but never at a compromise location between them. We compared these experimental results to the predictions of different types of homing models. We found that models guiding an agent by a single holistic view of the nest surroundings could not account for the bumblebees’ search behaviour in cue-conflict situations. Instead, homing models relying on multiple views were sufficient. We could further show that homing models required fewer views and got more robust to height changes if optic flow-based spatial information was encoded and learned, rather than just brightness information.

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Protein-protein interactions in neurodegenerative diseases: A conspiracy theory

by Travis B. Thompson, Pavanjit Chaggar, Ellen Kuhl, Alain Goriely, for the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s are associated with the prion-like propagation and aggregation of toxic proteins. A long standing hypothesis that amyloid-beta drives Alzheimer’s disease has proven the subject of contemporary controversy; leading to new research in both the role of tau protein and its interaction with amyloid-beta. Conversely, recent work in mathematical modeling has demonstrated the relevance of nonlinear reaction-diffusion type equations to capture essential features of the disease. Such approaches have been further simplified, to network-based models, and offer researchers a powerful set of computationally tractable tools with which to investigate neurodegenerative disease dynamics. Here, we propose a novel, coupled network-based model for a two-protein system that includes an enzymatic interaction term alongside a simple model of aggregate transneuronal damage. We apply this theoretical model to test the possible interactions between tau proteins and amyloid-beta and study the resulting coupled behavior between toxic protein clearance and proteopathic phenomenology. Our analysis reveals ways in which amyloid-beta and tau proteins may conspire with each other to enhance the nucleation and propagation of different diseases, thus shedding new light on the importance of protein clearance and protein interaction mechanisms in prion-like models of neurodegenerative disease.

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Serially assessed bisphenol A and phthalate exposure and association with kidney function in children with chronic kidney disease in the US and Canada: A longitudinal cohort study

by Melanie H. Jacobson, Yinxiang Wu, Mengling Liu, Teresa M. Attina, Mrudula Naidu, Rajendiran Karthikraj, Kurunthachalam Kannan, Bradley A. Warady, Susan Furth, Suzanne Vento, Howard Trachtman, Leonardo Trasande


Exposure to environmental chemicals may be a modifiable risk factor for progression of chronic kidney disease (CKD). The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of serially assessed exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates on measures of kidney function, tubular injury, and oxidative stress over time in a cohort of children with CKD.

Methods and findings

Samples were collected between 2005 and 2015 from 618 children and adolescents enrolled in the Chronic Kidney Disease in Children study, an observational cohort study of pediatric CKD patients from the US and Canada. Most study participants were male (63.8%) and white (58.3%), and participants had a median age of 11.0 years (interquartile range 7.6 to 14.6) at the baseline visit. In urine samples collected serially over an average of 3.0 years (standard deviation [SD] 1.6), concentrations of BPA, phthalic acid (PA), and phthalate metabolites were measured as well as biomarkers of tubular injury (kidney injury molecule-1 [KIM-1] and neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin [NGAL]) and oxidative stress (8-hydroxy-2′-deoxyguanosine [8-OHdG] and F2-isoprostane). Clinical renal function measures included estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), proteinuria, and blood pressure. Linear mixed models were fit to estimate the associations between urinary concentrations of 6 chemical exposure measures (i.e., BPA, PA, and 4 phthalate metabolite groups) and clinical renal outcomes and urinary concentrations of KIM-1, NGAL, 8-OHdG, and F2-isoprostane controlling for sex, age, race/ethnicity, glomerular status, birth weight, premature birth, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor use, angiotensin receptor blocker use, BMI z-score for age and sex, and urinary creatinine. Urinary concentrations of BPA, PA, and phthalate metabolites were positively associated with urinary KIM-1, NGAL, 8-OHdG, and F2-isoprostane levels over time. For example, a 1-SD increase in ∑di-n-octyl phthalate metabolites was associated with increases in NGAL (β = 0.13 [95% CI: 0.05, 0.21], p = 0.001), KIM-1 (β = 0.30 [95% CI: 0.21, 0.40], p 0.001), 8-OHdG (β = 0.10 [95% CI: 0.06, 0.13], p 0.001), and F2-isoprostane (β = 0.13 [95% CI: 0.01, 0.25], p = 0.04) over time. BPA and phthalate metabolites were not associated with eGFR, proteinuria, or blood pressure, but PA was associated with lower eGFR over time. For a 1-SD increase in ln-transformed PA, there was an average decrease in eGFR of 0.38 ml/min/1.73 m2 (95% CI: −0.75, −0.01; p = 0.04). Limitations of this study included utilization of spot urine samples for exposure assessment of non-persistent compounds and lack of specific information on potential sources of exposure.


Although BPA and phthalate metabolites were not associated with clinical renal endpoints such as eGFR or proteinuria, there was a consistent pattern of increased tubular injury and oxidative stress over time, which have been shown to affect renal function in the long term. This raises concerns about the potential for clinically significant changes in renal function in relation to exposure to common environmental toxicants at current levels.

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A functional context for heterogeneity of the circadian clock in cells

by Martha Merrow, Mary Harrington

Characterization of circadian systems at the organism level—a top-down approach—has led to definition of unifying properties, a hallmark of the science of chronobiology. The next challenge is to use a bottom-up approach to show how the molecular workings of the cellular circadian clock work as building blocks of those properties. We review new studies, including a recently published PLOS Biology paper by Nikhil and colleagues, that show how programmed but also stochastic generation of variation in cellular circadian period explain important adaptive features of entrained circadian phase.

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