There are 10 new articles in PLoS ONE this week. 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:
Non-image related responses to light, such as the synchronization of circadian rhythms to the day/night cycle, are mediated by classical rod/cone photoreceptors and by a small subset of retinal ganglion cells that are intrinsically photosensitive, expressing the photopigment, melanopsin. This raises the possibility that the melanopsin cells may be serving as a conduit for photic information detected by the rods and/or cones. To test this idea, we developed a specific immunotoxin consisting of an anti-melanopsin antibody conjugated to the ribosome-inactivating protein, saporin. Intravitreal injection of this immunotoxin results in targeted destruction of melanopsin cells. We find that the specific loss of these cells in the adult mouse retina alters the effects of light on circadian rhythms. In particular, the photosensitivity of the circadian system is significantly attenuated. A subset of animals becomes non-responsive to the light/dark cycle, a characteristic previously observed in mice lacking rods, cones, and functional melanopsin cells. Mice lacking melanopsin cells are also unable to show light induced negative masking, a phenomenon known to be mediated by such cells, but both visual cliff and light/dark preference responses are normal. These data suggest that cells containing melanopsin do indeed function as a conduit for rod and/or cone information for certain non-image forming visual responses. Furthermore, we have developed a technique to specifically ablate melanopsin cells in the fully developed adult retina. This approach can be applied to any species subject to the existence of appropriate anti-melanopsin antibodies.
Pica, the craving and subsequent consumption of non-food substances such as earth, charcoal, and raw starch, has been an enigma for more than 2000 years. Currently, there are little available data for testing major hypotheses about pica because of methodological limitations and lack of attention to the problem. In this paper we critically review procedures and guidelines for interviews and sample collection that are appropriate for a wide variety of pica substances. In addition, we outline methodologies for the physical, mineralogical, and chemical characterization of these substances, with particular focus on geophagic soils and clays. Many of these methods are standard procedures in anthropological, soil, or nutritional sciences, but have rarely or never been applied to the study of pica. Physical properties of geophagic materials including color, particle size distribution, consistency and dispersion/flocculation (coagulation) should be assessed by appropriate methods. Quantitative mineralogical analyses by X-ray diffraction should be made on bulk material as well as on separated clay fractions, and the various clay minerals should be characterized by a variety of supplementary tests. Concentrations of minerals should be determined using X-ray fluorescence for non-food substances and inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectroscopy for food-like substances. pH, salt content, cation exchange capacity, organic carbon content and labile forms of iron oxide should also be determined. Finally, analyses relating to biological interactions are recommended, including determination of the bioavailability of nutrients and other bioactive components from pica substances, as well as their detoxification capacities and parasitological profiles. This is the first review of appropriate methodologies for the study of human pica. The comprehensive and multi-disciplinary approach to the collection and analysis of pica substances detailed here is a necessary preliminary step to understanding the nutritional enigma of non-food consumption.