Archive for December 8, 2007

And it increases endurance to run a mile and decreases inflammation

The Salk Institute scientist who earlier discovered that enhancing the function of a single protein produced a mouse with an innate resistance to weight gain and the ability to run a mile without stopping has found new evidence that this protein and a related protein play central roles in the body’s complex journey to obesity and offer a new and specific metabolic approach to the treatment of obesity related disease such as Syndrome X (insulin resistance, hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis).

Dr. Ronald M. Evans, a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator at The Salk Institute’s Gene Expression Laboratory, presented two new studies (date) at Experimental Biology 2005 in the scientific sessions of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. The studies focus on genes for two of the nuclear hormone receptors that control broad aspects of body physiology, including serving as molecular sensors for numerous fat soluble hormones, Vitamins A and D, and dietary lipids.

The first study focuses on the gene for PPARd, a master regulator that controls the ability of cells to burn fat. When the “delta switch” is turned on in adipose tissue, local metabolism is activated resulting in increased calorie burning. Increasing PPARd activity in muscle produces the “marathon mouse,” characterized by super-ability for long distance running. Marathon mice contain altered muscle composition, which doubles its physical endurance, enabling it to run an hour longer than a normal mouse. Marathon mice contain increased levels of slow twitch (type I) muscle fiber, which confers innate resistance to weight gain, even in the absence of exercise.

Additional work to be reported at Experimental Biology looks at another characteristic of PPARd: its role as a major regulator of inflammation. Coronary artery lesions or atherosclerosis are thought to be sites of inflammation. Dr. Evans found that activation of PPARd suppresses the inflammatory response in the artery, dramatically slowing down lesion progression. Combining the results of this new study with the original “marathon mouse” findings suggests that PPARd drugs could be effective in controlling atherosclerosis by limiting inflammation and at the same time promoting improved physical performance.

Dr. Evans says he is very excited about the therapeutic possibilities related to activation of the PPARd gene. He believes athletes, especially marathon runners, naturally change their muscle fibers in the same way as seen in the genetically engineered mice, increasing levels of fat-burning muscle fibers and thus building a type of metabolic ‘shield” that keeps them from gaining weight even when they are not exercising.

But athletes do it through long periods of intensive training, an approach unavailable to patients whose weight or medical problems prevent them from exercise. Dr. Evans believes activating the PPARd pathway with drugs (one such experimental drug already is in development to treat people with lipid metabolism) or genetic engineering would help enhance muscle strength, combat obesity, and protect against diabetes in these patients.

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Article adapted by MD Sports Weblog from original press release.
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Contact: Sarah Goodwin
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

When given extra shots of the plant steroid brassinolide, plants “pump up” like major league baseball players do on steroids. Tracing brassinolide’s signal deep into the cell’s nucleus, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have unraveled how the growth-boosting hormone accomplishes its job at the molecular level.The Salk researchers, led by Joanne Chory, a professor in the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, published their findings in this week’s journal Nature.

“The steroid hormone brassinolide is central to plants’ growth. Without it, plants remain extreme dwarfs. If we are going to understand how plants grow, we need to understand the response pathway to this hormone,” says Chory. “This study clarifies what’s going on downstream in the nucleus when brassinolide signals a plant cell to grow.”

Brassinolide, a member of a family of plant hormones known as brassinosteroids, is a key element of plants’ response to light, enabling them to adjust growth to reach light or strengthen stems. Exploiting its potent growth-promoting properties could increase crop yields or enable growers to make plants more resistant to drought, pathogens, and cold weather.

Unfortunately, synthesizing brassinosteroids in the lab is complicated and expensive. But understanding how plant steroids work at the molecular level may one day lead to cheap and simple ways to bulk up crop harvests.

Likewise, since low brassinolide levels are associated with dwarfism, manipulating hormone levels during dormant seasons may allow growers to control the height of grasses, trees or other plants, thereby eliminating the need to constantly manicure gardens.

Based on earlier studies, the Salk researchers had developed a model that explained what happens inside a plant cell when brassinolide signals a plant cell to start growing.

But a model is just a model. Often evidence in favor of a particular model is indirect and could support multiple models. Describing the components of the signaling cascade that relays brassinolide’s message into a cell’s nucleus, postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study Grégory Vert, now at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) in Montpellier, France, said, “All the players are old acquaintances and we knew from genetic studies that they were involved in this pathway. But when we revisited the old crew it became clear that we had to revise the original model.”

When brassinosteroids bind a receptor on the cell’s surface, an intracellular enzyme called BIN2 is inactivated by an unknown mechanism. Previously, investigators thought that inactivation of BIN2, which is a kinase, freed a second protein known as BES1 from entrapment in the cytoplasm, the watery compartment surrounding a cell’s nucleus, and allowed it to migrate or “shuttle” into the nucleus where it tweaked the activity of genes regulating plant growth.

A closer inspection, however, revealed that BIN2 resides in multiple compartments of a cell, including the nucleus, and it is there–not in the cytoplasm–that BIN2 meets up with BES1 and prevents it from activating growth genes. “All of a sudden the ‘BES1 shuttle model’ no longer made sense,” says Vert, adding that it took many carefully designed experiments to convince himself and others that it was time to retire the old model.

A new picture of how brassinosteroids stimulate plant growth now emerges based on those experiments: steroid hormones are still thought to inactivate BIN2 and reciprocally activate BES1, but instead of freeing BES1 to shuttle into the nucleus, it is now clear that the crucial activation step occurs in the nucleus where BES1 is already poised for action. Once released from BIN2 inhibition, BES1 associates with itself and other regulatory factors, and this modified form of BES1 binds to DNA, activating scores of target genes.

Referring to the work of Vert and other members of the brassinosteroid team, Chory says, “The old model may be out, but Greg’s new studies, together with those of former postdocs, Yanhai Yin and Zhiyong Wang, have allowed us to unravel the nuclear events controlling brassinosteroid responses at the genomic level. This turns our attention to the last mystery: the gap in our understanding of the events between steroid binding at the cell surface and these nuclear mechanisms.”

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Article adapted by MD Sports Weblog from original press release.
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Contact: Gina Kirchweger
Salk Institute

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to fundamental discoveries in the life sciences, the improvement of human health and the training of future generations of researchers. Jonas Salk, M.D., whose polio vaccine all but eradicated the crippling disease poliomyelitis in 1955, opened the Institute in 1965 with a gift of land from the City of San Diego and the financial support of the March of Dimes.