There are 10 new articles in PLoS ONE today. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:
The mammalian biological clock, located in the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN), imposes its temporal structure on the organism via neural and endocrine outputs. To further investigate SCN control of the autonomic nervous system we focused in the present study on the daily rhythm in plasma glucose concentrations. The hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) is an important target area of biological clock output and harbors the pre-autonomic neurons that control peripheral sympathetic and parasympathetic activity. Using local administration of GABA and glutamate receptor (ant)agonists in the PVN at different times of the light/dark-cycle we investigated whether daily changes in the activity of autonomic nervous system contribute to the control of plasma glucose and plasma insulin concentrations. Activation of neuronal activity in the PVN of non-feeding animals, either by administering a glutamatergic agonist or a GABAergic antagonist, induced hyperglycemia. The effect of the GABA-antagonist was time dependent, causing increased plasma glucose concentrations only when administered during the light period. The absence of a hyperglycemic effect of the GABA-antagonist in SCN-ablated animals provided further evidence for a daily change in GABAergic input from the SCN to the PVN. On the other hand, feeding-induced plasma glucose and insulin responses were suppressed by inhibition of PVN neuronal activity only during the dark period. These results indicate that the pre-autonomic neurons in the PVN are controlled by an interplay of inhibitory and excitatory inputs. Liver-dedicated sympathetic pre-autonomic neurons (responsible for hepatic glucose production) and pancreas-dedicated pre-autonomic parasympathetic neurons (responsible for insulin release) are controlled by inhibitory GABAergic contacts that are mainly active during the light period. Both sympathetic and parasympathetic pre-autonomic PVN neurons also receive excitatory inputs, either from the biological clock (sympathetic pre-autonomic neurons) or from non-clock areas (para-sympathetic pre-autonomic neurons), but the timing information is mainly provided by the GABAergic outputs of the biological clock.
Feedback loops are the simplest building blocks of transcriptional regulatory networks and therefore their behavior in the course of evolution is of prime interest. We address the question of enrichment of the number of autoregulatory feedback loops in higher organisms. First, based on predicted autoregulatory binding sites we count the number of autoregulatory loops. We compare it to estimates obtained either by assuming that each (conserved) gene has the same chance to be a target of a given factor or by assuming that each conserved sequence position has an equal chance to be a binding site of the factor. We demonstrate that the numbers of putative autoregulatory loops conserved between human and fugu, danio or chicken are significantly higher than expected. Moreover we show, that conserved autoregulatory binding sites cluster close to the factors’ starts of transcription. We conclude, that transcriptional autoregulatory feedback loops constitute a core transcriptional network motif and their conservation has been maintained in higher vertebrate organism evolution.
Calorie restriction (CR) produces several health benefits and increases lifespan in many species. Studies suggest that alternate-day fasting (ADF) and exercise can also provide these benefits. Whether CR results in lifespan extension in humans is not known and a direct investigation is not feasible. However, phenotypes observed in CR animals when compared to ad libitum fed (AL) animals, including increased stress resistance and changes in protein expression, can be simulated in cells cultured with media supplemented with blood serum from CR and AL animals. Two pilot studies were undertaken to examine the effects of ADF and CR on indicators of health and longevity in humans. In this study, we used sera collected from those studies to culture human hepatoma cells and assessed the effects on growth, stress resistance and gene expression. Cells cultured in serum collected at the end of the dieting period were compared to cells cultured in serum collected at baseline (before the dieting period). Cells cultured in serum from ADF participants, showed a 20% increase in Sirt1 protein which correlated with reduced triglyceride levels. ADF serum also induced a 9% decrease in proliferation and a 25% increase in heat resistance. Cells cultured in serum from CR participants induced an increase in Sirt1 protein levels by 17% and a 30% increase in PGC-1α mRNA levels. This first in vitro study utilizing human serum to examine effects on markers of health and longevity in cultured cells resulted in increased stress resistance and an up-regulation of genes proposed to be indicators of increased longevity. The use of this in vitro technique may be helpful for predicting the potential of CR, ADF and other dietary manipulations to affect markers of longevity in humans.
In a variable yet predictable world, organisms may use environmental cues to make adaptive adjustments to their phenotype. Such phenotypic flexibility is expected commonly to evolve in life history traits, which are closely tied to Darwinian fitness. Yet adaptive life history flexibility remains poorly documented. Here we introduce the collembolan Folsomia candida, a soil-dweller, parthenogenetic (all-female) microarthropod, as a model organism to study the phenotypic expression, genetic variation, fitness consequences and long-term evolution of life history flexibility. We demonstrate that collembola have a remarkable adaptive ability for adjusting their reproductive phenotype: when transferred from harsh to good conditions (in terms of food ration and crowding), a mother can fine-tune the number and the size of her eggs from one clutch to the next. The comparative analysis of eleven clonal populations of worldwide origins reveals (i) genetic variation in mean egg size under both good and bad conditions; (ii) no genetic variation in egg size flexibility, consistent with convergent evolution to a common physiological limit; (iii) genetic variation of both mean reproductive investment and reproductive investment flexibility, associated with a reversal of the genetic correlation between egg size and clutch size between environmental conditions ; (iv) a negative genetic correlation between reproductive investment flexibility and adult lifespan. Phylogenetic reconstruction shows that two life history strategies, called HIFLEX and LOFLEX, evolved early in evolutionary history. HIFLEX includes six of our 11 clones, and is characterized by large mean egg size and reproductive investment, high reproductive investment flexibility, and low adult survival. LOFLEX (the other five clones) has small mean egg size and low reproductive investment, low reproductive investment flexibility, and high adult survival. The divergence of HIFLEX and LOFLEX could represent different adaptations to environments differing in mean quality and variability, or indicate that a genetic polymorphism of reproductive investment reaction norms has evolved under a physiological tradeoff between reproductive investment flexibility and adult lifespan.