Sugars in human mother’s milk are non-toxic antibacterial agents

August 25, 2017

Mother’s milk, which consists of a complex and continually changing blend of proteins, fats and sugars, helps protect babies against bacterial infections. In the past, scientists have concentrated their search for the source of its antibacterial properties on the proteins it contains. However, an interdisciplinary team of chemists and doctors at Vanderbilt University have discovered that some of the carbohydrates in human milk not only possess antibacterial properties of their own but also enhance the effectiveness of the antibacterial proteins also present. “This is the first example of generalized, antimicrobial activity on the part of the carbohydrates in human milk“This is the first example of generalized, antimicrobial activity on the part of the carbohydrates in human milk ,” said Assistant Professor of Chemistry Steven Townsend, who directed the study. “One of the remarkable properties of these compounds is that they are clearly non-toxic, unlike most antibiotics.”

A positive approach to Rett syndrome

August 23, 2017

A new drug reverses some cognitive deficits in a mouse model of Rett syndrome by stimulating a molecular receptor in the brain involved in learning. The findings were presented today at the 2015 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Chicago. The receptor, called mGluR7, binds to the chemical messenger glutamate in the brain’s learning and memory hub, the hippocampus. Because of its location in the hippocampus, this molecule serves as an interesting target for drug development, says lead researcher Colleen Niswender, director of molecular pharmacology at the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Discovery sheds light on protein key to nerve cells’ myelin sheath

August 17, 2017

Genetic mutations in PMP22 (peripheral myelin protein 22) cause a variety of peripheral neuropathies, underscoring the importance of the protein to a healthy peripheral nervous system. But the precise function of PMP22, a major component of the myelin sheath that surrounds and insulates peripheral nerve cell axons, has been unclear. Now, Vanderbilt investigators have discovered that PMP22 alters membrane architecture, suggesting that it plays a role in generating the complex membrane structure of myelin. The findings, reported recently in Science Advances, provide a biochemical assay for PMP22 function, which could be used to identify compounds that restore activity to mutated PMP22 proteins.

Investigators use light to kill microbial ‘vampires’

July 27, 2017

On July 24 Vanderbilt scientist Eric Skaar, Ph.D., MPH, summarized his group’s latest paper in a tweet: “If S. aureus is going to drink our blood like a vampire, let’s kill it with sunlight. That thing has been retweeted so many times,” said Skaar, the Ernest W. Goodpasture Professor of Pathology in the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “It’s one of the most popular tweets I’ve ever put out about our research.” No wonder. Staphylococcus aureus (staph) is the leading cause of hospital-acquired infections. Antibiotic-resistant strains of the bug, like MRSA, can kill. Staph needs iron to grow. “It breaks open the blood cells and grabs the hemoglobin and pulls the iron out,” Skaar said. Other Gram-positive pathogens probably do the same thing. “But the S. aureus systems are by far the most well studied,” he said.

Drivers of breast cancer metastasis

July 27, 2017

Overexpression of HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) is found in about 25 percent of breast cancers and is associated with poor outcomes. HER2-amplified breast cancers use signaling through a complex of proteins called mTORC2 to drive tumor formation, tumor cell survival and resistance to HER2-targeted therapies. Rebecca Cook, Ph.D., and colleagues have now explored a role for mTORC2 signaling in migration, invasion and metastasis in HER2-amplified breast cancer.

Shyr named chair of Department of Biostatistics

July 27, 2017

Yu Shyr, Ph.D., Harold L. Moses Professor of Cancer Research and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Quantitative Sciences, has been named chair of Vanderbilt’s Department of Biostatistics. He will assume the post Sept. 1. As the new chair, Shyr will spearhead a department recognized internationally for its research and educational programs, with 33 full-time faculty, 20 staff biostatisticians and five computer analysts. The Department of Biostatistics interacts closely with a large number of departments and centers. The department also has an extensive graduate program that offers both Ph.D. and M.S. degrees with 36 graduate students currently enrolled.Shyr succeeds Frank Harrell Jr., Ph.D., professor of Biostatistics and founding chair of the department, who is stepping down after 14 years.

Vanderbilt mourns loss of pharmacologist H. Alex Brown

July 27, 2017

H. Alex Brown, Ph.D., the Bixler-Johnson-Mayes Professor in the Department of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, died from cancer Tuesday, July 25, at his home. He was 56. Dr. Brown was a leader in the field of lipidomics, the application of analytical chemistry, mass spectrometry and systems biology to lipid profiling in cells and tissues. He helped define the role that the enzyme phospholipase D plays in intracellular lipid signaling pathways involved in growth promotion and invasive cancers.

Study identifies protein’s role in chemotherapy resistance

July 20, 2017

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) have discovered a protein that may lead to a new way to prevent resistance and improve outcomes for patients whose cancers have mutations in the tumor suppressor gene BRCA2. In a paper published this week by the journal Molecular Cell, David Cortez, Ph.D., and colleagues describe how RADX regulates the activity of RAD51 in a way that promotes genome stability and modulates drug sensitivity.

Immune responses linked to cell’s recycling system

July 20, 2017

Autophagy is the cellular equivalent of trash pickup and recycling — it is a process by which proteins, protein aggregates and damaged cellular organelles are degraded in order to reuse nutrients and promote cellular metabolism. Now researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have found that autophagy also plays an important role in priming the body’s immune system. Reporting this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Luc Van Kaer, Ph.D., and colleagues generated a strain of mice in which the gene for Vps34 was specifically “knocked out” in dendritic cells.

Osheroff honored with Association of Biochemistry Educators Distinguished Service Award

June 27, 2017

Kudos to Neil Osheroff, who was honored by the Association of Biochemistry Educators with their 2017 Distinguished Service Award! This award represents appreciation for an individual who has demonstrated either a profound, sustained, or leadership contribution to improving the postdoctoral experience. The award is presented in alternating years to either an individual or entity.

VU scientists report a way to calm the sepsis “storm”

June 22, 2017

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) have found a way to calm the “genomic storm” that triggers the often-lethal consequences of sepsis. Sepsis, an exaggerated and overwhelming inflammatory response to various infections, is a leading cause of death in the United States and around the world. Using a cell-penetrating peptide they developed, the researchers suppressed in an animal model of polymicrobial sepsis the transport of pro-inflammatory transcription factors into the cell’s nucleus. That, in turn, prevented activation of inflammatory pathways and reduced resulting blood vessel damage, respiratory distress, multiple organ failure and death. Read more