Mastodon Scientific Frontline

Friday, December 2, 2022

You can learn to be fearless

Katharina Spoida (left) and Sandra Süß have examined how the lack of a specific receptor affects the ability to unlearn fear.
Photo Credit: RUB, Marquard

The lack of a specific serotonin receptor helps to unlearn fear faster.

The messenger serotonin plays an important role in the development, but also in the learning of fear and fear. A research team in general zoology and neurobiology around Dr. Katharina Spoida and Dr. Sandra Süß examined in the collaborative research center "Extinction Learning" at the Ruhr University Bochum. The researchers were able to show that mice that lack a certain serotonin receptor unlearn fear much faster than the wild type. The results of the study provide a possible explanation of how drugs for post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSDs) change our brain activity. Those affected often have the ability to unlearn fear, making therapies difficult. The study was carried out on 19. November 2022 published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Everyday sensations cause fear

After a traumatic experience, those affected sometimes suffer fear long later, which is caused by certain sensory impressions from our everyday environment and is then overpowering. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD for short, is what experts call it. In this disorder, it is not or only with difficulty that those affected can unlearn the connection once they have learned between a neutral environmental stimulus and fear, which affects the success of therapies.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Experimental COVID-19 Vaccine Offers Long-Term Protection Against Severe Disease

A study involving rhesus macaques at the California National Primate Research Center shows that COVID-19 vaccines given to infant animals protect against lung disease one year after vaccination.
 Photo Credit: CNPRC

Two-dose vaccines provide protection against lung disease in rhesus macaques one year after they were vaccinated as infants, a new study shows. The work, published in Science Translational Medicine Dec. 1, is a follow-up to a 2021 studying showing that the Moderna mRNA vaccine and a protein-based vaccine candidate containing an adjuvant, a substance that enhances immune responses, elicited durable neutralizing antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 during infancy in preclinical research.

The co-senior authors of the paper are Kristina De Paris, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Sallie Permar, professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine; and Koen K.A. Van Rompay, leader of the Infectious Disease Unit at the California National Primate Research at the University of California, Davis. Co-first authors are Emma C. Milligan at the Children’s Research Institute, UNC School of Medicine; and Katherine Olstad at the CNPRC.

To evaluate SARS-CoV-2 infant vaccination, the researchers immunized two groups of eight infant rhesus macaques at the CNPRC at 2 months of age and again four weeks later. Each animal received one of two vaccine types: a preclinical version of the Moderna mRNA vaccine or a vaccine combining a protein developed by the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), with a potent adjuvant formulation. Consisting of 3M’s molecular adjuvant 3M-052 formulated in a squalene emulsion by the Access to Advanced Health Institute (AAHI), the adjuvant formulation stimulates immune responses by engaging receptors on immune cells.

Positively charged nanomaterials treat obesity anywhere you want

Illustration of depot-specific targeting of fat by cationic nanomaterials
Illustration Credit: Nicoletta Barolini/Columbia University

Researchers have long been working on how to treat obesity, a serious condition that can lead to hypertension, diabetes, chronic inflammation, and cardiovascular diseases. Studies have also revealed a strong correlation of obesity and cancer--recent data show that smoking, drinking alcohol, and obesity are the biggest contributors to cancer worldwide.

The development of fat cells, which are produced from a tiny fibroblast-like progenitor, not only activates the fat cells’ specific genes but also grows them by storing more lipids (adipocytes and adipose tissue). In fact, lipid storage is the defining function of a fat cell. But the storage of too much lipid can make fat cells unhealthy and lead to obesity.

Challenges in targeting fat cells

The ability to target fat cells and safely uncouple unhealthy fat formation from healthy fat metabolism would be the answer to many peoples’ prayers. A major challenge in obesity treatment is that fat tissue, which is not continuous in the body but is found piece by piece in “depots,” has been difficult to target in a depot-specific manner, pinpointed at the exact location.

There are two main kinds of fat: visceral fat, internal tissues that surround the stomach, liver, and intestines, and subcutaneous fat, found under the skin anywhere in the body. Visceral fat produces potbellies; subcutaneous fat can create chin jowls, arm fat, etc. To date, there has been no way to specifically treat visceral adipose tissue. And current treatments for subcutaneous fat like liposuction are invasive and destructive.

New Stanford chip-scale laser isolator could transform photonics

From left, Alexander White, Geun Ho Ahn, and Jelena Vučković with the nanoscale isolator.
Photo Credit: Hannah Kleidermacher

Using well-known materials and manufacturing processes, researchers have built an effective, passive, ultrathin laser isolator that opens new research avenues in photonics.

Lasers are transformational devices, but one technical challenge prevents them from being even more so. The light they emit can reflect back into the laser itself and destabilize or even disable it. At real-world scales, this challenge is solved by bulky devices that use magnetism to block harmful reflections. At chip scale, however, where engineers hope lasers will one day transform computer circuitry, effective isolators have proved elusive.

Against that backdrop, researchers at Stanford University say they have created a simple and effective chip-scale isolator that can be laid down in a layer of semiconductor-based material hundreds of times thinner than a sheet of paper.

“Chip-scale isolation is one of the great open challenges in photonics,” said Jelena Vučković, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford and senior author of the study appearing Dec. 1 in the journal Nature Photonics.

“Every laser needs an isolator to stop back reflections from coming into and destabilizing the laser,” said Alexander White, a doctoral candidate in Vučković’s lab and co-first author of the paper, adding that the device has implications for everyday computing, but could also influence next-generation technologies, like quantum computing.

Small fish could play big role in fight against malnutrition

 Dagaa, a small pelagic fish, is the largest share of the catch around Lake Victoria in East Africa. Photo Credit: Kathryn Fiorella

According to new research, inexpensive, small fish species caught in seas and lakes in developing countries could help close nutritional gaps for undernourished people, and especially young children, according to new research.

The study, “Small Pelagic Fish Supply Abundant and Affordable Micronutrients to Low- and Middle-Income Countries,” published Dec. 1 in Nature Food.

The researchers found that fish such as herring, sardines and anchovies – known as pelagic fish, meaning they inhabit upper layers of open sea – were the cheapest nutritious fish in 72% percent of the countries.

They also found targeting small pelagic fish could help close nutrient gaps in sub-Saharan Africa, where nutrient deficiencies are rising and children under 5 years consume just 38% of recommended seafood intake. While cheap and nutritious, these small fish are also already caught in sufficient numbers. Just 20% of the current small pelagic fish catch could meet the recommended dietary fish intakes for all children under 5 who live near coastlines.

Hibernating Corals and the Microbiomes That Sustain Them

A microscope image of Northern star coral with its polyps extended.
Photo Credit: Alicia Schickle, Roger Williams University

As winter approaches, many species of animals — from bears and squirrels to parasitic wasps and a few lucky humans — hunker down for some needed rest. The northern star coral (Astrangia poculata) also enters a hibernating state of dormancy, or quiescence, during this time. But what happens to its microbiome while it’s sleeping?

A study led by University of California, Davis, Assistant Professor Anya Brown found that microbial communities shift while this coral enters dormancy, providing it an important seasonal reset. The work may carry implications for coral in warmer waters struggling with climate change and other environmental issues.

“Dormancy, at its most basic, is a response to an environmental stressor — in this case, cold stress,” said Brown, who is part of the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory in the Department of Evolution and Ecology. “If we understand more about this recovery period, it might help us understand what microbes may be responsible for recovering coral in warmer tropical systems.”

Researchers Develop Strategy to Thermally Stabilize Microneedle Vaccine Technology

Visual of the researcher's microneedle vaccine technology concept.
Illustration Credit: Thahn Nguyen

Researchers use sugar molecules to help eliminate the need for cold-chain storage, a common logistical hurdle for vaccine distribution

Researchers in the Department of Biomedical Engineering —a shared department between the UConn Schools of Dental Medicine, Medicine, and Engineering—unlocked a new strategy using sugar molecules to thermally stabilize their existing microneedle vaccine technology, eliminating the need for cold-chain storage.

Associate Professor Thanh Duc Nguyen from the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering in the School of Engineering, reported this new development in a recent issue of Advanced Materials Technology. The work was led by Dr. Khanh Tran, Nguyen’s former UConn Ph.D. student currently at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Dr. Tyler Gavitt, former UConn Ph.D. student currently at Duke University. Gavitt was a student of Associate Professor Steven Szczepanek in the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science in the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources at UConn.

Typically, vaccinations against infectious diseases like COVID-19 require multiple painful, expensive and inconvenient injections, including a prime and several booster shots. The UConn researcher’s technology creates a self-administered microneedle patch which could be self-administered and only requires a single-time administration into skin—similar to a nicotine patch—to perform a release profile of vaccines, simulating the effect of multiple injections.

Development of the immune system before and after birth

What influence does a premature birth have on the development of the immune system? And how can the immune system be supported to ensure an optimal start in life? The researchers in the SFB/TRR PILOT are dealing with these and many other questions.
Photo Credit: University Medical Centre Freiburg

The newborn's immune system is suddenly confronted with microorganisms, food and numerous environmental influences at birth. How do the baby's immune cells prepare for this moment during pregnancy and birth? How do external influences shape the immune system immediately after birth? And what influence does an event like a premature birth have? These and many other questions about the development of the child's immune system around birth are being investigated by scientists from the Facult of Medicine at the University of Freiburg together with researchers from the LMU Munich, the University Hospital RWTH Aachen and other institutions in the Collaborative Research Center/Transregio “Perinatal Development of Immune Cell Topology (PILOT).” PILOT was approved by the German Research Foundation (DFG) on November 25, 2022, and will be funded with a total of 12 million euros for an initial period of four years starting January 1, 2023.

Mammoth problem with extinction timeline

Cameron Schwalbach, paleontology collections manager for the Cincinnati Museum Center’s Geier Collections and Research Center, and UC assistant professor Joshua Miller examine a mammoth skull. Photo Credit: Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand

Exactly when mammoths went extinct has fascinated paleontologists for generations, perhaps because their decline coincided with the arrival of people to North and South America.

So, it’s only natural to wonder if humans more than contributed to the extinction of these enormous beasts of the ice age more than 10,000 years ago.

A University of Cincinnati paleontologist refutes the latest timeline published in 2021 in the journal Nature that suggested mammoths met their end much more recently than we believed. An international team of researchers examined environmental DNA of mammoth remains and more than 1,500 arctic plants to conclude that a wetter climate quickly changed the landscape from tundra grassland steppe to forested wetlands that could not support many of these big grazing animals, driving mammoths to extinction as recently as 3,900 years ago.

But in a rebuttal paper to be published Dec. 1 in Journal Nature, UC College of Arts and Sciences assistant professor Joshua Miller and co-author Carl Simpson at the University of Colorado Boulder argue that the environmental DNA used to establish their updated timeline is more complex than previously recognized.

New clues about how carbon dioxide affects bumble bee reproduction

In addition to inducing a calming effect, carbon dioxide also can trigger a range of other physiological responses in bumble bees, according to a Penn State researcher.
Photo Credit: Eduardo Goody

While a beekeeper puffing clouds of carbon dioxide into a hive to calm the insects is a familiar image to many, less is known about its other effects on bees. A recent study revealed clues about how the chemical compound affects bee physiology, including reproduction.

The research team, led by an entomologist in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, set out to disentangle how carbon dioxide seems to bypass diapause, a phase similar to hibernation during which bees sleep over the winter, to trigger the reproductive process in bumblebee queens.

The researchers found that carbon dioxide first induced a change in metabolism, which then triggered secondary effects on reproduction. The findings, recently published in Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, were contrary to previous hypotheses.

“Previously, it was believed that CO2 directly affected reproduction, but this study is some of the first evidence showing this is likely not the case,” said Etya Amsalem, associate professor of entomology. “We found that CO2 changes the way macronutrients are stored and reallocated in the body. The fact that the reproductive process is then kickstarted is just an artifact of these processes.”

Featured Article

A warmer Arctic Ocean leads to more snowfall further south

An increasingly warm and ice-free Arctic Ocean has, in recent decades, led to more moisture in higher latitudes. This moisture is transporte...

Top Viewed Articles