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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 54 new articlespublished in PLoS ONE today. Here are my picks:

Climate Extremes Promote Fatal Co-Infections during Canine Distemper Epidemics in African Lions:

Extreme climatic conditions may alter historic host-pathogen relationships and synchronize the temporal and spatial convergence of multiple infectious agents, triggering epidemics with far greater mortality than those due to single pathogens. Here we present the first data to clearly illustrate how climate extremes can promote a complex interplay between epidemic and endemic pathogens that are normally tolerated in isolation, but with co-infection, result in catastrophic mortality. A 1994 canine distemper virus (CDV) epidemic in Serengeti lions (Panthera leo) coincided with the death of a third of the population, and a second high-mortality CDV epidemic struck the nearby Ngorongoro Crater lion population in 2001. The extent of adult mortalities was unusual for CDV and prompted an investigation into contributing factors. Serological analyses indicated that at least five “silent” CDV epidemics swept through the same two lion populations between 1976 and 2006 without clinical signs or measurable mortality, indicating that CDV was not necessarily fatal. Clinical and pathology findings suggested that hemoparsitism was a major contributing factor during fatal epidemics. Using quantitative real-time PCR, we measured the magnitude of hemoparasite infections in these populations over 22 years and demonstrated significantly higher levels of Babesia during the 1994 and 2001 epidemics. Babesia levels correlated with mortalities and extent of CDV exposure within prides. The common event preceding the two high mortality CDV outbreaks was extreme drought conditions with wide-spread herbivore die-offs, most notably of Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer). As a consequence of high tick numbers after the resumption of rains and heavy tick infestations of starving buffalo, the lions were infected by unusually high numbers of Babesia, infections that were magnified by the immunosuppressive effects of coincident CDV, leading to unprecedented mortality. Such mass mortality events may become increasingly common if climate extremes disrupt historic stable relationships between co-existing pathogens and their susceptible hosts.

Left Hemisphere Specialization for Oro-Facial Movements of Learned Vocal Signals by Captive Chimpanzees:

The left hemisphere of the human brain is dominant in the production of speech and signed language. Whether similar lateralization of function for communicative signal production is present in other primates remains a topic of considerable debate. In the current study, we examined whether oro-facial movements associated with the production of learned attention-getting sounds are differentially lateralized compared to facial expressions associated with the production of species-typical emotional vocalizations in chimpanzees. Still images captured from digital video were used to quantify oro-facial asymmetries in the production of two attention-getting sounds and two species-typical vocalizations in a sample of captive chimpanzees. Comparisons of mouth asymmetries during production of these sounds revealed significant rightward biased asymmetries for the attention-getting sounds and significant leftward biased asymmetries for the species-typical sounds. These results suggest that the motor control of oro-facial movements associated with the production of learned sounds is lateralized to the left hemisphere in chimpanzees. Furthermore, the findings suggest that the antecedents for lateralization of human speech may have been present in the common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans ~5 mya and are not unique to the human lineage.

Mapping Health Literacy Research in the European Union: A Bibliometric Analysis:

To examine and compare the research productivity on selected fields related to health literacy of the current members of the European Union, the four candidate countries waiting to join the EU, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States. A bibliometric analysis (1991-2005). Data sources included papers published by authors from each country separately. The 25 European countries produce less than 1/3 health literacy research when compared to the U.S. (13,710 and 49,523 articles were published by authors with main affiliation in the European Union and the four candidate countries, and the U.S., respectively). The Netherlands and Sweden (followed by Germany, Italy, and France) are the European countries with the highest number of research published in fields related to health literacy. After adjustment for population Sweden, Finland, and Norway, were on the top of the relevant list. In addition, Sweden, Finland, and Ireland, were on the top of the list of countries regarding research productivity on the selected fields after adjustment for gross domestic product (GDP). Inequalities in research published on the topic of health literacy exist among Europe, Norway, Switzerland, and the U.S. More research may need to be done in all areas of health literacy in Europe and the potential detrimental effects of this gap should be further investigated.

Climate Change and the Future of California’s Endemic Flora:

The flora of California, a global biodiversity hotspot, includes 2387 endemic plant taxa. With anticipated climate change, we project that up to 66% will experience >80% reductions in range size within a century. These results are comparable with other studies of fewer species or just samples of a region’s endemics. Projected reductions depend on the magnitude of future emissions and on the ability of species to disperse from their current locations. California’s varied terrain could cause species to move in very different directions, breaking up present-day floras. However, our projections also identify regions where species undergoing severe range reductions may persist. Protecting these potential future refugia and facilitating species dispersal will be essential to maintain biodiversity in the face of climate change.

Increased Avian Diversity Is Associated with Lower Incidence of Human West Nile Infection: Observation of the Dilution Effect:

Recent infectious disease models illustrate a suite of mechanisms that can result in lower incidence of disease in areas of higher disease host diversity-the ‘dilution effect’. These models are particularly applicable to human zoonoses, which are infectious diseases of wildlife that spill over into human populations. As many recent emerging infectious diseases are zoonoses, the mechanisms that underlie the ‘dilution effect’ are potentially widely applicable and could contribute greatly to our understanding of a suite of diseases. The dilution effect has largely been observed in the context of Lyme disease and the predictions of the underlying models have rarely been examined for other infectious diseases on a broad geographic scale. Here, we explored whether the dilution effect can be observed in the relationship between the incidence of human West Nile virus (WNV) infection and bird (host) diversity in the eastern US. We constructed a novel geospatial contrasts analysis that compares the small differences in avian diversity of neighboring US counties (where one county reported human cases of WNV and the other reported no cases) with associated between-county differences in human disease. We also controlled for confounding factors of climate, regional variation in mosquito vector type, urbanization, and human socioeconomic factors that are all likely to affect human disease incidence. We found there is lower incidence of human WNV in eastern US counties that have greater avian (viral host) diversity. This pattern exists when examining diversity-disease relationships both before WNV reached the US (in 1998) and once the epidemic was underway (in 2002). The robust disease-diversity relationships confirm that the dilution effect can be observed in another emerging infectious disease and illustrate an important ecosystem service provided by biodiversity, further supporting the growing view that protecting biodiversity should be considered in public health and safety plans.

Cortical Plasticity Induced by Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation during Wakefulness Affects Electroencephalogram Activity during Sleep:

Sleep electroencephalogram (EEG) brain oscillations in the low-frequency range show local signs of homeostatic regulation after learning. Such increases and decreases of slow wave activity are limited to the cortical regions involved in specific task performance during wakefulness. Here, we test the hypothesis that reorganization of motor cortex produced by long-term potentiation (LTP) affects EEG activity of this brain area during subsequent sleep. By pairing median nerve stimulation with transcranial magnetic stimulation over the contralateral motor cortex, one can potentiate the motor output, which is presumed to reflect plasticity of the neural circuitry. This paired associative stimulation increases M1 cortical excitability at interstimulus intervals of 25 ms. We compared the scalp distribution of sleep EEG power following paired associative stimulation at 25 ms to that following a control paradigm with 50 ms intervals. It is shown that the experimental manipulation by paired associative stimulation at 25 ms induces a 48% increase in amplitude of motor evoked potentials. This LTP-like potentiation, induced during waking, affects delta and theta EEG power in both REM and non-REM sleep, measured during the following night. Slow-wave activity increases in some frontal and prefrontal derivations and decreases at sites neighboring and contralateral to the stimulated motor cortex. The magnitude of increased amplitudes of motor evoked potentials by the paired associative stimulation at 25 ms predicts enhancements of slow-wave activity in prefrontal regions. An LTP-like paradigm, presumably inducing increased synaptic strength, leads to changes in local sleep regulation, as indexed by EEG slow-wave activity. Enhancement and depression of slow-wave activity are interpreted in terms of a simultaneous activation of both excitatory and inhibitory circuits consequent to the paired associative stimulation at 25 ms.

Enhanced Caenorhabditis elegans Locomotion in a Structured Microfluidic Environment:

Behavioral studies of Caenorhabditis elegans traditionally are done on the smooth surface of agar plates, but the natural habitat of C. elegans and other nematodes is the soil, a complex and structured environment. In order to investigate how worms move in such environments, we have developed a technique to study C. elegans locomotion in microstructures fabricated from agar. When placed in open, liquid-filled, microfluidic chambers containing a square array of posts, we discovered that worms are capable of a novel mode of locomotion, which combines the fast gait of swimming with the more efficient movements of crawling. When the wavelength of the worms matched the periodicity of the post array, the microstructure directed the swimming and increased the speed of C. elegans ten-fold. We found that mutants defective in mechanosensation (mec-4, mec-10) or mutants with abnormal waveforms (unc-29) did not perform this enhanced locomotion and moved much more slowly than wild-type worms in the microstructure. These results show that the microstructure can be used as a behavioral screen for mechanosensory and uncoordinated mutants. It is likely that worms use mechanosensation in the movement and navigation through heterogeneous environments.

A Vaccine against Nicotine for Smoking Cessation: A Randomized Controlled Trial:

Tobacco dependence is the leading cause of preventable death and disabilities worldwide and nicotine is the main substance responsible for the addiction to tobacco. A vaccine against nicotine was tested in a 6-month randomized, double blind phase II smoking cessation study in 341 smokers with a subsequent 6-month follow-up period. 229 subjects were randomized to receive five intramuscular injections of the nicotine vaccine and 112 to receive placebo at monthly intervals. All subjects received individual behavioral smoking cessation counseling. The vaccine was safe, generally well tolerated and highly immunogenic, inducing a 100% antibody responder rate after the first injection. Point prevalence of abstinence at month 2 showed a statistically significant difference between subjects treated with Nicotine-Qβ (47.2%) and placebo (35.1%) (P = 0.036), but continuous abstinence between months 2 and 6 was not significantly different. However, in subgroup analysis of the per-protocol population, the third of subjects with highest antibody levels showed higher continuous abstinence from month 2 until month 6 (56.6%) than placebo treated participants (31.3%) (OR 2.9; P = 0.004) while medium and low antibody levels did not increase abstinence rates. After 12 month, the difference in continuous abstinence rate between subjects on placebo and those with high antibody response was maintained (difference 20.2%, P = 0.012). Whereas Nicotine-Qβ did not significantly increase continuous abstinence rates in the intention-to-treat population, subgroup analyses of the per-protocol population suggest that such a vaccination against nicotine can significantly increase continuous abstinence rates in smokers when sufficiently high antibody levels are achieved. Immunotherapy might open a new avenue to the treatment of nicotine addiction.

Inverse Correlation of Population Similarity and Introduction Date for Invasive Ascidians:

The genomes of many marine invertebrates, including the purple sea urchin and the solitary ascidians Ciona intestinalis and Ciona savignyi, show exceptionally high levels of heterozygosity, implying that these populations are highly polymorphic. Analysis of the C. savignyi genome found little evidence to support an elevated mutation rate, but rather points to a large population size contributing to the polymorphism level. In the present study, the relative genetic polymorphism levels in sampled populations of ten different ascidian species were determined using a similarity index generated by AFLP analysis. The goal was to determine the range of polymorphism within the populations of different species, and to uncover factors that may contribute to the high level of polymorphism. We observe that, surprisingly, the levels of polymorphism within these species show a negative correlation with the reported age of invasive populations, and that closely related species show substantially different levels of genetic polymorphism. These findings show exceptions to the assumptions that invasive species start with a low level of genetic polymorphism that increases over time and that closely related species have similar levels of genetic polymorphism.

The Prehistory of Potyviruses: Their Initial Radiation Was during the Dawn of Agriculture:

Potyviruses are found world wide, are spread by probing aphids and cause considerable crop damage. Potyvirus is one of the two largest plant virus genera and contains about 15% of all named plant virus species. When and why did the potyviruses become so numerous? Here we answer the first question and discuss the other. We have inferred the phylogenies of the partial coat protein gene sequences of about 50 potyviruses, and studied in detail the phylogenies of some using various methods and evolutionary models. Their phylogenies have been calibrated using historical isolation and outbreak events: the plum pox virus epidemic which swept through Europe in the 20th century, incursions of potyviruses into Australia after agriculture was established by European colonists, the likely transport of cowpea aphid-borne mosaic virus in cowpea seed from Africa to the Americas with the 16th century slave trade and the similar transport of papaya ringspot virus from India to the Americas. Our studies indicate that the partial coat protein genes of potyviruses have an evolutionary rate of about 1.15×10−4 nucleotide substitutions/site/year, and the initial radiation of the potyviruses occurred only about 6,600 years ago, and hence coincided with the dawn of agriculture. We discuss the ways in which agriculture may have triggered the prehistoric emergence of potyviruses and fostered their speciation.