Inhibition of the de novo pyrimidine biosynthesis pathway limits ribosomal RNA transcription causing nucleolar stress in glioblastoma cells

by M. Carmen Lafita-Navarro, Niranjan Venkateswaran, Jessica A. Kilgore, Suman Kanji, Jungsoo Han, Spencer Barnes, Noelle S. Williams, Michael Buszczak, Sandeep Burma, Maralice Conacci-Sorrell

Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive type of cancer in the brain; its poor prognosis is often marked by reoccurrence due to resistance to the chemotherapeutic agent temozolomide, which is triggered by an increase in the expression of DNA repair enzymes such as MGMT. The poor prognosis and limited therapeutic options led to studies targeted at understanding specific vulnerabilities of glioblastoma cells. Metabolic adaptations leading to increased synthesis of nucleotides by de novo biosynthesis pathways are emerging as key alterations driving glioblastoma growth. In this study, we show that enzymes necessary for the de novo biosynthesis of pyrimidines, DHODH and UMPS, are elevated in high grade gliomas and in glioblastoma cell lines. We demonstrate that DHODH’s activity is necessary to maintain ribosomal DNA transcription (rDNA). Pharmacological inhibition of DHODH with the specific inhibitors brequinar or ML390 effectively depleted the pool of pyrimidines in glioblastoma cells grown in vitro and in vivo and impaired rDNA transcription, leading to nucleolar stress. Nucleolar stress was visualized by the aberrant redistribution of the transcription factor UBF and the nucleolar organizer nucleophosmin 1 (NPM1), as well as the stabilization of the transcription factor p53. Moreover, DHODH inhibition decreased the proliferation of glioblastoma cells, including temozolomide-resistant cells. Importantly, the addition of exogenous uridine, which reconstitutes the cellular pool of pyrimidine by the salvage pathway, to the culture media recovered the impaired rDNA transcription, nucleolar morphology, p53 levels, and proliferation of glioblastoma cells caused by the DHODH inhibitors. Our in vivo data indicate that while inhibition of DHODH caused a dramatic reduction in pyrimidines in tumor cells, it did not affect the overall pyrimidine levels in normal brain and liver tissues, suggesting that pyrimidine production by the salvage pathway may play an important role in maintaining these nucleotides in normal cells. Our study demonstrates that glioblastoma cells heavily rely on the de novo pyrimidine biosynthesis pathway to generate ribosomal RNA (rRNA) and thus, we identified an approach to inhibit ribosome production and consequently the proliferation of glioblastoma cells through the specific inhibition of the de novo pyrimidine biosynthesis pathway.

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Evaluation of an unconditional cash transfer program targeting children’s first-1,000–days linear growth in rural Togo: A cluster-randomized controlled trial

by Justine Briaux, Yves Martin-Prevel, Sophie Carles, Sonia Fortin, Yves Kameli, Laura Adubra, Andréa Renk, Yawavi Agboka, Magali Romedenne, Félicité Mukantambara, John Van Dyck, Joachim Boko, Renaud Becquet, Mathilde Savy


In 2014, the government of Togo implemented a pilot unconditional cash transfer (UCT) program in rural villages that aimed at improving children’s nutrition, health, and protection. It combined monthly UCTs (approximately US$8.40 /month) with a package of community activities (including behavior change communication [BCC] sessions, home visits, and integrated community case management of childhood illnesses and acute malnutrition [ICCM-Nut]) delivered to mother–child pairs during the first “1,000 days” of life. We primarily investigated program impact at population level on children’s height-for-age z-scores (HAZs) and secondarily on stunting (HAZ Methods and findings

We implemented a parallel-cluster–randomized controlled trial, in which 162 villages were randomized into either an intervention arm (UCTs + package of community activities, n = 82) or a control arm (package of community activities only, n = 80). Two different representative samples of children aged 6–29 months and their mothers were surveyed in each arm, one before the intervention in 2014 (control: n = 1,301, intervention: n = 1,357), the other 2 years afterwards in 2016 (control: n = 996, intervention: n = 1,035). Difference-in-differences (DD) estimates of impact were calculated, adjusting for clustering. Children’s average age was 17.4 (± 0.24 SE) months in the control arm and 17.6 (± 0.19 SE) months in the intervention arm at baseline. UCTs had a protective effect on HAZ (DD = +0.25 z-scores, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.01–0.50, p = 0.039), which deteriorated in the control arm while remaining stable in the intervention arm, but had no impact on stunting (DD = −6.2 percentage points [pp], relative odds ratio [ROR]: 0.74, 95% CI: 0.51–1.06, p = 0.097). UCTs positively impacted both mothers’ and children’s (18–23 months) consumption of animal source foods (ASFs) (respectively, DD = +4.5 pp, ROR: 2.24, 95% CI: 1.09–4.61, p = 0.029 and DD = +9.1 pp, ROR: 2.65, 95% CI: 1.01–6.98, p = 0.048) and household food insecurity (DD = −10.7 pp, ROR: 0.63, 95% CI: 0.43–0.91, p = 0.016). UCTs did not impact on reported child morbidity 2 week’s prior to report (DD = −3.5 pp, ROR: 0.80, 95% CI: 0.56–1.14, p = 0.214) but reduced the financial barrier to seeking healthcare for sick children (DD = −26.4 pp, ROR: 0.23, 95% CI: 0.08–0.66, p = 0.006). Women who received cash had higher odds of delivering in a health facility (DD = +10.6 pp, ROR: 1.53, 95% CI: 1.10–2.13, p = 0.012) and lower odds of giving birth to babies with birth weights (BWs) p = 0.020). Positive effects were also found on women’s knowledge (DD = +14.8, ROR: 1.86, 95% CI: 1.32–2.62, p p = 0.048). Study limitations included the short evaluation period (24 months) and the low coverage of UCTs, which might have reduced the program’s impact.


UCTs targeting the first “1,000 days” had a protective effect on child’s linear growth in rural areas of Togo. Their simultaneous positive effects on various immediate, underlying, and basic causes of malnutrition certainly contributed to this ultimate impact. The positive impacts observed on pregnancy- and birth-related outcomes call for further attention to the conception period in nutrition-sensitive programs.

Trial registration

ISRCTN Registry ISRCTN83330970.

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Budgerigars have complex sleep structure similar to that of mammals

by Sofija V. Canavan, Daniel Margoliash

Birds and mammals share specialized forms of sleep including slow wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM), raising the question of why and how specialized sleep evolved. Extensive prior studies concluded that avian sleep lacked many features characteristic of mammalian sleep, and therefore that specialized sleep must have evolved independently in birds and mammals. This has been challenged by evidence of more complex sleep in multiple songbird species. To extend this analysis beyond songbirds, we examined a species of parrot, the sister taxon to songbirds. We implanted adult budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) with electroencephalogram (EEG) and electrooculogram (EOG) electrodes to evaluate sleep architecture, and video monitored birds during sleep. Sleep was scored with manual and automated techniques, including automated detection of slow waves and eye movements. This can help define a new standard for how to score sleep in birds. Budgerigars exhibited consolidated sleep, a pattern also observed in songbirds, and many mammalian species, including humans. We found that REM constituted 26.5% of total sleep, comparable to humans and an order of magnitude greater than previously reported. Although we observed no spindles, we found a clear state of intermediate sleep (IS) similar to non-REM (NREM) stage 2. Across the night, SWS decreased and REM increased, as observed in mammals and songbirds. Slow wave activity (SWA) fluctuated with a 29-min ultradian rhythm, indicating a tendency to move systematically through sleep states as observed in other species with consolidated sleep. These results are at variance with numerous older sleep studies, including for budgerigars. Here, we demonstrated that lighting conditions used in the prior budgerigar study—and commonly used in older bird studies—dramatically disrupted budgerigar sleep structure, explaining the prior results. Thus, it is likely that more complex sleep has been overlooked in a broad range of bird species. The similarities in sleep architecture observed in mammals, songbirds, and now budgerigars, alongside recent work in reptiles and basal birds, provide support for the hypothesis that a common amniote ancestor possessed the precursors that gave rise to REM and SWS at one or more loci in the parallel evolution of sleep in higher vertebrates. We discuss this hypothesis in terms of the common plan of forebrain organization shared by reptiles, birds, and mammals.

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Local retinoic acid signaling directs emergence of the extraocular muscle functional unit

by Glenda Evangelina Comai, Markéta Tesařová, Valerie Dupé, Muriel Rhinn, Pedro Vallecillo-García, Fabio da Silva, Betty Feret, Katherine Exelby, Pascal Dollé, Leif Carlsson, Brian Pryce, François Spitz, Sigmar Stricker, Tomáš Zikmund, Jozef Kaiser, James Briscoe, Andreas Schedl, Norbert B. Ghyselinck, Ronen Schweitzer, Shahragim Tajbakhsh

Coordinated development of muscles, tendons, and their attachment sites ensures emergence of functional musculoskeletal units that are adapted to diverse anatomical demands among different species. How these different tissues are patterned and functionally assembled during embryogenesis is poorly understood. Here, we investigated the morphogenesis of extraocular muscles (EOMs), an evolutionary conserved cranial muscle group that is crucial for the coordinated movement of the eyeballs and for visual acuity. By means of lineage analysis, we redefined the cellular origins of periocular connective tissues interacting with the EOMs, which do not arise exclusively from neural crest mesenchyme as previously thought. Using 3D imaging approaches, we established an integrative blueprint for the EOM functional unit. By doing so, we identified a developmental time window in which individual EOMs emerge from a unique muscle anlage and establish insertions in the sclera, which sets these muscles apart from classical muscle-to-bone type of insertions. Further, we demonstrate that the eyeballs are a source of diffusible all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) that allow their targeting by the EOMs in a temporal and dose-dependent manner. Using genetically modified mice and inhibitor treatments, we find that endogenous local variations in the concentration of retinoids contribute to the establishment of tendon condensations and attachment sites that precede the initiation of muscle patterning. Collectively, our results highlight how global and site-specific programs are deployed for the assembly of muscle functional units with precise definition of muscle shapes and topographical wiring of their tendon attachments.

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Tick-transmitted thogotovirus gains high virulence by a single MxA escape mutation in the viral nucleoprotein

by Jonas Fuchs, Alexander Oschwald, Laura Graf, Georg Kochs

Infections with emerging and re-emerging arboviruses are of increasing concern for global health. Tick-transmitted RNA viruses of the genus Thogotovirus in the Orthomyxoviridae family have considerable zoonotic potential, as indicated by the recent emergence of Bourbon virus in the USA. To successfully infect humans, arboviruses have to escape the restrictive power of the interferon defense system. This is exemplified by the high sensitivity of thogotoviruses to the antiviral action of the interferon-induced myxovirus resistance protein A (MxA) that inhibits the polymerase activity of incoming viral ribonucleoprotein complexes. Acquiring resistance to human MxA would be expected to enhance the zoonotic potential of these pathogens. Therefore, we screened a panel of 10 different thogotovirus isolates obtained from various parts of the world for their sensitivity to MxA. A single isolate from Nigeria, Jos virus, showed resistance to the antiviral action of MxA in cell culture and in MxA-transgenic mice, whereas the prototypic Sicilian isolate SiAr126 was fully MxA-sensitive. Further analysis identified two amino acid substitutions (G327R and R328V) in the viral nucleoprotein as determinants for MxA resistance. Importantly, when introduced into SiAr126, the R328V mutation resulted in complete MxA escape of the recombinant virus, without causing any viral fitness loss. The escape mutation abolished viral nucleoprotein recognition by MxA and allowed unhindered viral growth in MxA-expressing cells and in MxA-transgenic mice. These findings demonstrate that thogotoviruses can overcome the species barrier by escaping MxA restriction and reveal that these tick-transmitted viruses may have a greater zoonotic potential than previously suspected.

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Identity-by-descent with uncertainty characterises connectivity of Plasmodium falciparum populations on the Colombian-Pacific coast

by Aimee R. Taylor, Diego F. Echeverry, Timothy J. C. Anderson, Daniel E. Neafsey, Caroline O. Buckee

Characterising connectivity between geographically separated biological populations is a common goal in many fields. Recent approaches to understanding connectivity between malaria parasite populations, with implications for disease control efforts, have used estimates of relatedness based on identity-by-descent (IBD). However, uncertainty around estimated relatedness has not been accounted for. IBD-based relatedness estimates with uncertainty were computed for pairs of monoclonal Plasmodium falciparum samples collected from five cities on the Colombian-Pacific coast where long-term clonal propagation of P. falciparum is frequent. The cities include two official ports, Buenaventura and Tumaco, that are separated geographically but connected by frequent marine traffic. Fractions of highly-related sample pairs (whose classification using a threshold accounts for uncertainty) were greater within cities versus between. However, based on both highly-related fractions and on a threshold-free approach (Wasserstein distances between parasite populations) connectivity between Buenaventura and Tumaco was disproportionally high. Buenaventura-Tumaco connectivity was consistent with transmission events involving parasites from five clonal components (groups of statistically indistinguishable parasites identified under a graph theoretic framework). To conclude, P. falciparum population connectivity on the Colombian-Pacific coast abides by accessibility not isolation-by-distance, potentially implicating marine traffic in malaria transmission with opportunities for targeted intervention. Further investigations are required to test this hypothesis. For the first time in malaria epidemiology (and to our knowledge in ecological and epidemiological studies more generally), we account for uncertainty around estimated relatedness (an important consideration for studies that plan to use genotype versus whole genome sequence data to estimate IBD-based relatedness); we also use threshold-free methods to compare parasite populations and identify clonal components. Threshold-free methods are especially important in analyses of malaria parasites and other recombining organisms with mixed mating systems where thresholds do not have clear interpretation (e.g. due to clonal propagation) and thus undermine the cross-comparison of studies.

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Genotype imputation using the Positional Burrows Wheeler Transform

by Simone Rubinacci, Olivier Delaneau, Jonathan Marchini

Genotype imputation is the process of predicting unobserved genotypes in a sample of individuals using a reference panel of haplotypes. In the last 10 years reference panels have increased in size by more than 100 fold. Increasing reference panel size improves accuracy of markers with low minor allele frequencies but poses ever increasing computational challenges for imputation methods. Here we present IMPUTE5, a genotype imputation method that can scale to reference panels with millions of samples. This method continues to refine the observation made in the IMPUTE2 method, that accuracy is optimized via use of a custom subset of haplotypes when imputing each individual. It achieves fast, accurate, and memory-efficient imputation by selecting haplotypes using the Positional Burrows Wheeler Transform (PBWT). By using the PBWT data structure at genotyped markers, IMPUTE5 identifies locally best matching haplotypes and long identical by state segments. The method then uses the selected haplotypes as conditioning states within the IMPUTE model. Using the HRC reference panel, which has ∼65,000 haplotypes, we show that IMPUTE5 is up to 30x faster than MINIMAC4 and up to 3x faster than BEAGLE5.1, and uses less memory than both these methods. Using simulated reference panels we show that IMPUTE5 scales sub-linearly with reference panel size. For example, keeping the number of imputed markers constant, increasing the reference panel size from 10,000 to 1 million haplotypes requires less than twice the computation time. As the reference panel increases in size IMPUTE5 is able to utilize a smaller number of reference haplotypes, thus reducing computational cost.

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Speed of phototransduction in the microvillus regulates the accuracy and bandwidth of the rhabdomeric photoreceptor

by Roman V. Frolov, Irina I. Ignatova

Phototransduction reactions in the rhabdomeric photoreceptor are profoundly stochastic due to the small number of participating molecules and small reaction space. The resulting quantum bumps (QBs) vary in their timing (latency), amplitudes and durations, and these variabilities within each cell are not correlated. Using modeling and electrophysiological recordings, we investigated how the QB properties depend on the cascade speed and how they influence signal transfer. Parametric analysis in the model supported by experimental data revealed that faster cascades elicit larger and narrower QBs with faster onsets and smaller variabilities than slower cascades. Latency dispersion was stronger affected by modification of upstream than downstream activation parameters. The variability caused by downstream modifications closely matched the experimental variability. Frequency response modeling showed that corner frequency is a reciprocal function of the characteristic duration of the multiphoton response, which, in turn, is a non-linear function of QB duration and latency dispersion. All QB variabilities contributed noise but only latency dispersion slowed and spread multiphoton responses, lowering the corner frequency. Using the discovered QB correlations, we evaluated transduction noise for dissimilar species and two extreme adaptation states, and compared it to photon noise. The noise emitted by the cascade was non-additive and depended non-linearly on the interaction between the QB duration and the three QB variabilities. Increased QB duration strongly suppressed both noise and corner frequency. This trade-off might be acceptable for nocturnal but not diurnal species because corner frequency is the principal determinant of information capacity. To offset the increase in noise accompanying the QB narrowing during light adaptation and the response-expanding effect of latency dispersion, the cascade accelerates. This explains the widespread evolutionary tendency of diurnal fliers to have fast phototransduction, especially after light adaptation, which thus appears to be a common adaptation to contain stochasticity, improve SNR and expand the bandwidth.

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Strong intracellular signal inactivation produces sharper and more robust signaling from cell membrane to nucleus

by Jingwei Ma, Myan Do, Mark. A. Le Gros, Charles S. Peskin, Carolyn A. Larabell, Yoichiro Mori, Samuel A. Isaacson

For a chemical signal to propagate across a cell, it must navigate a tortuous environment involving a variety of organelle barriers. In this work we study mathematical models for a basic chemical signal, the arrival times at the nuclear membrane of proteins that are activated at the cell membrane and diffuse throughout the cytosol. Organelle surfaces within human B cells are reconstructed from soft X-ray tomographic images, and modeled as reflecting barriers to the molecules’ diffusion. We show that signal inactivation sharpens signals, reducing variability in the arrival time at the nuclear membrane. Inactivation can also compensate for an observed slowdown in signal propagation induced by the presence of organelle barriers, leading to arrival times at the nuclear membrane that are comparable to models in which the cytosol is treated as an open, empty region. In the limit of strong signal inactivation this is achieved by filtering out molecules that traverse non-geodesic paths.

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Validation of DBFOLD: An efficient algorithm for computing folding pathways of complex proteins

by Amir Bitran, William M. Jacobs, Eugene Shakhnovich

Atomistic simulations can provide valuable, experimentally-verifiable insights into protein folding mechanisms, but existing ab initio simulation methods are restricted to only the smallest proteins due to severe computational speed limits. The folding of larger proteins has been studied using native-centric potential functions, but such models omit the potentially crucial role of non-native interactions. Here, we present an algorithm, entitled DBFOLD, which can predict folding pathways for a wide range of proteins while accounting for the effects of non-native contacts. In addition, DBFOLD can predict the relative rates of different transitions within a protein’s folding pathway. To accomplish this, rather than directly simulating folding, our method combines equilibrium Monte-Carlo simulations, which deploy enhanced sampling, with unfolding simulations at high temperatures. We show that under certain conditions, trajectories from these two types of simulations can be jointly analyzed to compute unknown folding rates from detailed balance. This requires inferring free energies from the equilibrium simulations, and extrapolating transition rates from the unfolding simulations to lower, physiologically-reasonable temperatures at which the native state is marginally stable. As a proof of principle, we show that our method can accurately predict folding pathways and Monte-Carlo rates for the well-characterized Streptococcal protein G. We then show that our method significantly reduces the amount of computation time required to compute the folding pathways of large, misfolding-prone proteins that lie beyond the reach of existing direct simulation. Our algorithm, which is available online, can generate detailed atomistic models of protein folding mechanisms while shedding light on the role of non-native intermediates which may crucially affect organismal fitness and are frequently implicated in disease.

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