February 16, 2007

Aliquots — Research highlights from VUMC laboratories

Featured Image

Welcome to Aliquots

For scientists, aliquots are part of daily life. These small samples — portions of a larger whole — populate test tube racks across this Medical Center.

The VUMC Reporter is launching this new bi-weekly column to share with you research “aliquots” — snippets of the numerous discoveries of our productive research enterprise.

Our intent with this section is to expand the breadth of research coverage that we bring to you in the Reporter by adding research briefs to our regular full-length science news features.

We welcome your suggestions for research to highlight in Aliquots. The items should be primary research articles (no reviews, editorials or commentaries) published by VUMC authors within the last two months in a peer-reviewed journal. Please send the article citation (pdf if available) and any other feedback about the column to: aliquots@vanderbilt.edu.

Seeing the writing on the wall

If you're waiting to have your blood drawn, do you notice the posters on the wall?

Only about a third of us do, according to a new report in Cell and Tissue Banking by Jill Pulley, M.B.A., and colleagues.

The investigators aimed to determine the effectiveness of posters describing the DNA Databank — a new resource of anonymized DNA samples and linked clinical information — and how patients can have their samples excluded from the resource. Interviews conducted with patients exiting phlebotomy areas showed that 32 percent of patients recalled seeing the DNA Databank posters. A larger group of patients — 93 percent — either recalled the posters or reported they were comfortable with the concept after the DNA Databank program was described to them.

The investigators concluded that additional mechanisms are needed to promote widespread notification of the DNA Databank and the opt-out procedures. Statements related to the program have been added to the forms patients sign, and the DNA program managers have placed notifications in state and local newspapers and created informational brochures.

— Leigh MacMillan

Cell identity switch

Cells, like people, can suffer identity crises. In normal development, wound healing, and pathological conditions like cancer metastasis or fibrosis, epithelial cells gradually begin to lose their identity and revert into metastatic tumor cells or fibroblasts, respectively, in a process called epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). The transcriptional proteins facilitating this complex process, however, are not all known.

Christos Venkov, Ph.D., Eric Neilson, M.D., and colleagues recently identified two proteins, CBF-A and KAP-1 that play critical roles in initiating EMT. In the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the researchers demonstrate that these two proteins interact with a DNA promoter region that regulates the expression of fibroblast specific protein 1, a protein that marks an early stage of EMT. This regulatory region (called FTS-1) is also present in promoter regions that regulate expression of other EMT-associated genes. These results suggest that the formation of CBF-A/KAP-1/FTS-1 complexes may be a “master” regulator of EMT and could be a potential therapeutic target for treating diseases where it occurs, such as in cancer and tissue fibrosis.

— Melissa Marino

Genes cooperate to damage nerves

The nerve-destroying disease multiple sclerosis (MS) is thought to result from a complex interplay of genetics and environmental triggers.

Marylyn Ritchie, Ph.D., and colleagues have taken a fresh look at MS genetics, using a powerful statistical approach they developed called multifactor dimensionality reduction (MDR) to examine gene-gene interactions. The team explored 51 single nucleotide polymorphisms in 36 candidate genes with roles in inflammation — a hallmark of the disease.They probed gene-gene interactions in a population-based dataset of 421 diagnosed MS cases and 96 controls, and in family-based datasets of 146 multiplex families (affected and non-affected sibling pairs) and 275 trio families (both parents and an affected child).

In the January issue of Neurogenetics, the investigators reported two-, three-, and four-gene interaction models that predict MS disease risk with between 61 percent and 85 percent accuracy. Noting that MDR is a tool for exploratory data analysis, the team concluded that the inflammatory gene interactions they found should be followed up in future investigations.

— Leigh MacMillan

Past Aliquots

June 22, 2012
June 8, 2012
May 11, 2012
April 27, 2012
April 13, 2012
March 30, 2012
March 16, 2012