New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 47 articles published in PLoS ONE this week. Here are some of the coolest titles - you go and find your own.

Ultrasonic Vocalizations Induced by Sex and Amphetamine in M2, M4, M5 Muscarinic and D2 Dopamine Receptor Knockout Mice:

Adult mice communicate by emitting ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) during the appetitive phases of sexual behavior. However, little is known about the genes important in controlling call production. Here, we study the induction and regulation of USVs in muscarinic and dopaminergic receptor knockout (KO) mice as well as wild-type controls during sexual behavior. Female mouse urine, but not female rat or human urine, induced USVs in male mice, whereas male urine did not induce USVs in females. Direct contact of males with females is required for eliciting high level of USVs in males. USVs (25 to120 kHz) were emitted only by males, suggesting positive state; however human-audible squeaks were produced only by females, implying negative state during male-female pairing. USVs were divided into flat and frequency-modulated calls. Male USVs often changed from continuous to broken frequency-modulated calls after initiation of mounting. In M2 KO mice, USVs were lost in about 70-80% of the mice, correlating with a loss of sexual interaction. In M5 KO mice, mean USVs were reduced by almost 80% even though sexual interaction was vigorous. In D2 KOs, the duration of USVs was extended by 20%. In M4 KOs, no significant differences were observed. Amphetamine dose-dependently induced USVs in wild-type males (most at 0.5 mg/kg i.p.), but did not elicit USVs in M5 KO or female mice. These studies suggest that M2 and M5 muscarinic receptors are needed for male USV production during male-female interactions, likely via their roles in dopamine activation. These findings are important for the understanding of the neural substrates for positive affect.

Maternal Cocaine Administration in Mice Alters DNA Methylation and Gene Expression in Hippocampal Neurons of Neonatal and Prepubertal Offspring:

Previous studies documented significant behavioral changes in the offspring of cocaine-exposed mothers. We now explore the hypothesis that maternal cocaine exposure could alter the fetal epigenetic machinery sufficiently to cause lasting neurochemical and functional changes in the offspring. Pregnant CD1 mice were administered either saline or 20 mg/kg cocaine twice daily on gestational days 8-19. Male pups from each of ten litters of the cocaine and control groups were analyzed at 3 (P3) or 30 (P30) days postnatum. Global DNA methylation, methylated DNA immunoprecipitation followed by CGI2 microarray profiling and bisulfite sequencing, as well as quantitative real-time RT-PCR gene expression analysis, were evaluated in hippocampal pyramidal neurons excised by laser capture microdissection. Following maternal cocaine exposure, global DNA methylation was significantly decreased at P3 and increased at P30. Among the 492 CGIs whose methylation was significantly altered by cocaine at P3, 34% were hypermethylated while 66% were hypomethylated. Several of these CGIs contained promoter regions for genes implicated in crucial cellular functions. Endogenous expression of selected genes linked to the abnormally methylated CGIs was correspondingly decreased or increased by as much as 4-19-fold. By P30, some of the cocaine-associated effects at P3 endured, reversed to opposite directions, or disappeared. Further, additional sets of abnormally methylated targets emerged at P30 that were not observed at P3. Taken together, these observations indicate that maternal cocaine exposure during the second and third trimesters of gestation could produce potentially profound structural and functional modifications in the epigenomic programs of neonatal and prepubertal mice.

Ecological Niche Dimensionality and the Evolutionary Diversification of Stick Insects:

The degree of phenotypic divergence and reproductive isolation between taxon pairs can vary quantitatively, and often increases as evolutionary divergence proceeds through various stages, from polymorphism to population differentiation, ecotype and race formation, speciation, and post-speciational divergence. Although divergent natural selection promotes divergence, it does not always result in strong differentiation. For example, divergent selection can fail to complete speciation, and distinct species pairs sometimes collapse ('speciation in reverse'). Widely-discussed explanations for this variability concern genetic architecture, and the geographic arrangement of populations. A less-explored possibility is that the degree of phenotypic and reproductive divergence between taxon pairs is positively related to the number of ecological niche dimensions (i.e., traits) subject to divergent selection. Some data supporting this idea stem from laboratory experimental evolution studies using Drosophila, but tests from nature are lacking. Here we report results from manipulative field experiments in natural populations of herbivorous Timema stick insects that are consistent with this 'niche dimensionality' hypothesis. In such insects, divergent selection between host plants might occur for cryptic colouration (camouflage to evade visual predation), physiology (to detoxify plant chemicals), or both of these niche dimensions. We show that divergent selection on the single niche dimension of cryptic colouration can result in ecotype formation and intermediate levels of phenotypic and reproductive divergence between populations feeding on different hosts. However, greater divergence between a species pair involved divergent selection on both niche dimensions. Although further replication of the trends reported here is required, the results suggest that dimensionality of selection may complement genetic and geographic explanations for the degree of diversification in nature.

Mesoscopic Structure Conditions the Emergence of Cooperation on Social Networks:

We study the evolutionary Prisoner's Dilemma on two social networks substrates obtained from actual relational data. We find very different cooperation levels on each of them that cannot be easily understood in terms of global statistical properties of both networks. We claim that the result can be understood at the mesoscopic scale, by studying the community structure of the networks. We explain the dependence of the cooperation level on the temptation parameter in terms of the internal structure of the communities and their interconnections. We then test our results on community-structured, specifically designed artificial networks, finding a good agreement with the observations in both real substrates. Our results support the conclusion that studies of evolutionary games on model networks and their interpretation in terms of global properties may not be sufficient to study specific, real social systems. Further, the study allows us to define new quantitative parameters that summarize the mesoscopic structure of any network. In addition, the community perspective may be helpful to interpret the origin and behavior of existing networks as well as to design structures that show resilient cooperative behavior.

The Airborne Metagenome in an Indoor Urban Environment:

The indoor atmosphere is an ecological unit that impacts on public health. To investigate the composition of organisms in this space, we applied culture-independent approaches to microbes harvested from the air of two densely populated urban buildings, from which we analyzed 80 megabases genomic DNA sequence and 6000 16S rDNA clones. The air microbiota is primarily bacteria, including potential opportunistic pathogens commonly isolated from human-inhabited environments such as hospitals, but none of the data contain matches to virulent pathogens or bioterror agents. Comparison of air samples with each other and nearby environments suggested that the indoor air microbes are not random transients from surrounding outdoor environments, but rather originate from indoor niches. Sequence annotation by gene function revealed specific adaptive capabilities enriched in the air environment, including genes potentially involved in resistance to desiccation and oxidative damage. This baseline index of air microbiota will be valuable for improving designs of surveillance for natural or man-made release of virulent pathogens.

Inevitable Evolutionary Temporal Elements in Neural Processing: A Study Based on Evolutionary Simulations:

Recent studies have suggested that some neural computational mechanisms are based on the fine temporal structure of spiking activity. However, less effort has been devoted to investigating the evolutionary aspects of such mechanisms. In this paper we explore the issue of temporal neural computation from an evolutionary point of view, using a genetic simulation of the evolutionary development of neural systems. We evolve neural systems in an environment with selective pressure based on mate finding, and examine the temporal aspects of the evolved systems. In repeating evolutionary sessions, there was a significant increase during evolution in the mutual information between the evolved agent's temporal neural representation and the external environment. In ten different simulated evolutionary sessions, there was an increased effect of time -related neural ablations on the agents' fitness. These results suggest that in some fitness landscapes the emergence of temporal elements in neural computation is almost inevitable. Future research using similar evolutionary simulations may shed new light on various biological mechanisms.

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