The prion agent is unique in biology and is comprised of prion protein scrapie (PrPSc), a self-templating conformational variant of the host encoded prion protein cellular (PrPC). The deposition patterns of PrPSc in the CNS can vary considerably from a diffuse synaptic pattern to large plaque-like aggregates. Alterations of PrPC posttranslational processing can change PrPSc deposition patterns; however, the mechanism underlying these observations is unclear. In this issue of the JCI, Sevillano and authors determined that parenchymal PrPSc plaques of the mouse brain preferentially incorporated underglycosylated PrPC that had been liberated from the cell surface by the metalloproteinase, ADAM-10, in combination with heparin sulfate. These results provide mechanistic insight into the formation of PrPSc plaques and suggest that PrP posttranslational modifications direct pathogenicity as well as the rate of disease progression.
Jason C. Bartz
The advent of human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) provided a means for avoiding ethical concerns associated with the use of cells isolated from human embryos. The number of labs now using iPSCs to generate photoreceptor, retinal pigmented epithelial (RPE), and more recently choroidal endothelial cells has grown exponentially. However, for autologous cell replacement to be effective, manufacturing strategies will need to change. Many tasks carried out by hand will need simplifying and automating. In this issue of the JCI, Schaub and colleagues combined quantitative brightfield microscopy and artificial intelligence (deep neural networks and traditional machine learning) to noninvasively monitor iPSC-derived graft maturation, predict donor cell identity, and evaluate graft function prior to transplantation. This approach allowed the authors to preemptively identify and remove abnormal grafts. Notably, the method is (a) transferable, (b) cost- and time effective, (c) high throughput, and (d) useful for primary product validation.
Budd A. Tucker, Robert F. Mullins, Edwin M. Stone
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease caused by the progressive loss of dopaminergic (DA) neurons in the midbrain projecting to the striatum, which leads to motor dysfunctions, such as bradykinesia (slowed movement), rigidity, and tremors. To replace the lost cells, the transplantation of DA neurons derived from embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) has been considered. In this issue of the JCI, Song et al. report on their development of an iPSC induction and differentiation protocol that can promote the realization of autologous transplantation to treat PD patients with their own cells.
Asthma is a common chronic respiratory disease that has a heritable component. Polymorphisms in the endoplasmic reticular protein orosomucoid-like protein 3 (ORMDL3), which regulates sphingolipid homeostasis, have been strongly linked with childhood-onset asthma. Despite extensive investigation, a link between ORMDL3 asthma–risk genotypes and altered sphingolipid synthesis has been lacking. In this issue of the JCI, Ono et al. establish a clear association between nonallergic childhood asthma, lower whole-blood sphingolipids, and asthma-risk 17q21 genotypes. These results demonstrate that genetic variants in ORMDL3 may confer a risk of developing childhood asthma through dysregulation of sphingolipid synthesis. As such, modulation of sphingolipids may represent a promising avenue of therapeutic development for childhood asthma.
Severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS) is an emerging disease in China, South Korea, and Japan caused by the tick-borne SFTS virus (SFTSV). Severe and fatal SFTS presents as a hemorrhagic fever characterized by high viral load, uncontrolled inflammatory response, dysregulated adaptive immunity, coagulation abnormalities, hemorrhage, and multiorgan failure with up to 33% case fatality rates (CFRs). Despite its public health significance in Asia, vaccines and specific therapeutics against SFTS are still unavailable. A better understanding of the pathogenesis of SFTS is crucial to improving medical countermeasures against this devastating disease. In this issue of the JCI, Suzuki and colleagues analyzed histopathological samples from 22 individuals who succumbed to SFTS, and identified antibody-producing B cell–lineage plasmablasts and macrophages as principal target cells for SFTSV infection in fatal SFTS. Their results suggest that SFTSV-infected post–germinal center B cells, plasmablasts, and macrophages affect systemic immunopathology and dysregulation, which likely leads to fatal outcomes.
Satoko Yamaoka, Carla Weisend, Hideki Ebihara
Liver disease as a result of chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a global problem. While some HCV infections resolve spontaneously, viral persistence associates with compromised T cell immunity. In this issue of the JCI, Chen et al. and Coss et al. explored virus-specific CD4+ T cell response during HCV infection. Both studies evaluated the HCV-specific T cells of patients with different courses of infection. Chen et al. revealed that initial CD4+ T cell responses are similar during early infection and that T cell failure resulted from loss of the virus-specific T cells themselves. Coss et al. showed that HCV-specific CD4+ T cells temporarily recovered in some women following childbirth. These studies contribute to our understanding of CD4+ T cell functionality during different natural courses of infection, with the notable implication that restoring CD4+ T cell immunity might contribute to controlling HCV infection.
Benedikt Binder, Robert Thimme
KBTBD13 is a protein expressed in striated muscle whose precise function is unknown. Work by de Winter et al. in this issue of the JCI provides evidence that KBTBD13 localizes to the sarcomere and can directly bind actin. A mutation in KBTBD13 that is associated with nemaline myopathy alters the protein’s effects on actin, apparently increasing thin-filament stiffness and ultimately depressing contractile force and relaxation rate. We discuss here the implications of this new sarcomeric protein, some alternate explanations for the effects of KBTBD13R408C, and the advantages of using computational models to interpret functional data from muscle.
Stuart G. Campbell, Steven A. Niederer
Although iron deficiency continues to pose a problem for pregnant women and fetal development, an incomplete understanding of placental adaptation to limited iron availability has hindered efforts to identify optimal supplementation strategies. In this issue of the JCI, Sangkhae et al. used mouse models and human placentas to explore maternal, placental, and fetal responses to alterations in iron status during pregnancy. The authors identified molecular mechanisms that limit placental ability to upregulate iron transport in the setting of severe iron deficiency and explored a potential marker of placental maladaptation.
Nermi L. Parrow, Robert E. Fleming
XMEN (X-linked immunodeficiency with magnesium defect, EBV infection, and neoplasia) is a complex primary immunological deficiency caused by mutations in MAGT1, a putative magnesium transporter. In this issue of the JCI, Ravell et al. greatly expand the clinical picture. The authors investigated patients’ mutations and symptoms and reported distinguishing immunophenotypes. They also showed that MAGT1 is required for N-glycosylation of key T cell and NK cell receptors that can account for some of the clinical features. Notably, transfection of the affected lymphocytes with MAGT1 mRNA restored both N-glycosylation and receptor function. Now we can add XMEN to the ever-growing family of congenital disorders of glycosylation (CDG).
Hudson H. Freeze
Excessive fecal bile acid (BA) loss causes symptoms in a large proportion of people diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea, a common functional bowel disorder. This BA diarrhea (BAD) results from increased hepatic synthesis of BAs, with impaired negative feedback regulation by the ileal hormone fibroblast growth factor 19 (FGF19). In this issue of the JCI, Zhao et al. investigated BA metabolism, including fecal BAs, serum BAs, and FGF19, in patients and controls. They identified associations between fecal bacterial BA metabolism and specific microbiota, especially Clostridium scindens. These findings have been tested in a mouse model using microbiota transplants and antibiotic treatment. This group of organisms has potential as a biomarker for BAD and to be a target for therapy.
Julian R.F. Walters, Julian R. Marchesi
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