A Blog Around The Clock

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

Last night was Seder night and today we had the outage, so I know this is coming late. Still, there are 26 new articles published last night and 5 new articles tonight in PLoS ONE. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:

Uncovering the Genetic Landscape for Multiple Sleep-Wake Traits:

Despite decades of research in defining sleep-wake properties in mammals, little is known about the nature or identity of genes that regulate sleep, a fundamental behaviour that in humans occupies about one-third of the entire lifespan. While genome-wide association studies in humans and quantitative trait loci (QTL) analyses in mice have identified candidate genes for an increasing number of complex traits and genetic diseases, the resources and time-consuming process necessary for obtaining detailed quantitative data have made sleep seemingly intractable to similar large-scale genomic approaches. Here we describe analysis of 20 sleep-wake traits from 269 mice from a genetically segregating population that reveals 52 significant QTL representing a minimum of 20 genomic loci. While many (28) QTL affected a particular sleep-wake trait (e.g., amount of wake) across the full 24-hr day, other loci only affected a trait in the light or dark period while some loci had opposite effects on the trait during the light vs. dark. Analysis of a dataset for multiple sleep-wake traits led to previously undetected interactions (including the differential genetic control of number and duration of REM bouts), as well as possible shared genetic regulatory mechanisms for seemingly different unrelated sleep-wake traits (e.g., number of arousals and REM latency). Construction of a Bayesian network for sleep-wake traits and loci led to the identification of sub-networks of linkage not detectable in smaller data sets or limited single-trait analyses. For example, the network analyses revealed a novel chain of causal relationships between the chromosome 17@29cM QTL, total amount of wake, and duration of wake bouts in both light and dark periods that implies a mechanism whereby overall sleep need, mediated by this locus, in turn determines the length of each wake bout. Taken together, the present results reveal a complex genetic landscape underlying multiple sleep-wake traits and emphasize the need for a systems biology approach for elucidating the full extent of the genetic regulatory mechanisms of this complex and universal behavior.

Estradiol Activates β-Catenin Dependent Transcription in Neurons:

Estradiol may fulfill a plethora of functions in neurons, in which much of its activity is associated with its capacity to directly bind and dimerize estrogen receptors. This hormone-protein complex can either bind directly to estrogen response elements (ERE’s) in gene promoters, or it may act as a cofactor at non-ERE sites interacting with other DNA-binding elements such as AP-1 or c-Jun. Many of the neuroprotective effects described for estrogen have been associated with this mode of action. However, recent evidence suggests that in addition to these “genomic effects”, estrogen may also act as a more general “trophic factor” triggering cytoplasmic signals and extending the potential activity of this hormone. We demonstrated that estrogen receptor alpha associates with β-catenin and glycogen synthase kinase 3 in the brain and in neurons, which has since been confirmed by others. Here, we show that the action of estradiol activates β-catenin transcription in neuroblastoma cells and in primary cortical neurons. This activation is time and concentration-dependent, and it may be abolished by the estrogen receptor antagonist ICI 182780. The transcriptional activation of β-catenin is dependent on lymphoid enhancer binding factor-1 (LEF-1) and a truncated-mutant of LEF-1 almost completely blocks estradiol TCF-mediated transcription. Transcription of a TCF-reporter in a transgenic mouse model is enhanced by estradiol in a similar fashion to that produced by Wnt3a. In addition, activation of a luciferase reporter driven by the engrailed promoter with three LEF-1 repeats was mediated by estradiol. We established a cell line that constitutively expresses a dominant-negative LEF-1 and it was used in a gene expression microarray analysis. In this way, genes that respond to estradiol or Wnt3a, sensitive to LEF-1, could be identified and validated. Together, these data demonstrate the existence of a new signaling pathway controlled by estradiol in neurons. This pathway shares some elements of the insulin-like growth factor-1/Insulin and Wnt signaling pathways, however, our data strongly suggest that it is different from that of both these ligands. These findings may reveal a set of new physiological roles for estrogens, at least in the Central Nervous System (CNS).

Scorpion Biodiversity and Interslope Divergence at ‘Evolution Canyon’, Lower Nahal Oren Microsite, Mt. Carmel, Israel:

Local natural laboratories, designated by us as the “Evolution Canyon” model, are excellent tools to study regional and global ecological dynamics across life. They present abiotic and biotic contrasts locally, permitting the pursuit of observations and experiments across diverse taxa sharing sharp microecological subdivisions. Higher solar radiation received by the “African savannah-like” south-facing slopes (AS) in canyons north of the equator than by the opposite “European maquis-like” north-facing slopes (ES) is associated with higher abiotic stress. Scorpions are a suitable taxon to study interslope biodiversity differences, associated with the differences in abiotic factors (climate, drought), due to their ability to adapt to dry environments. Scorpions were studied by the turning stone method and by UV light methods. The pattern observed in scorpions was contrasted with similar patterns in several other taxa at the same place. As expected, the AS proved to be significantly more speciose regarding scorpions, paralleling the interslope patterns in taxa such as lizards and snakes, butterflies (Rhopalocera), beetles (families Tenebrionidae, Dermestidae, Chrysomelidae), and grasshoppers (Orthoptera). Our results support an earlier conclusion stating that the homogenizing effects of migration and stochasticity are not able to eliminate the interslope intra- and interspecific differences in biodiversity despite an interslope distance of only 100 m at the “EC” valley bottom. In our opinion, the interslope microclimate selection, driven mainly by differences in insolance, could be the primary factor responsible for the observed interslope pattern.