Research Highlights

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  • While loss-of-function mutations affecting the α2-Na/K ATPase are known to cause familial hemiplegic migraine, it is unclear how reduced protein activity could contribute toward migraine or paralysis observed in patients. A recent study from Sarah Smith and colleagues demonstrates that conditional deletion of the α2-Na/K ATPase in astrocytes can evoke episodic paralysis in mice, potentially due to altered metabolic processing of serine and glycine. By feeding juvenile α2-Na/K ATPase mutant mice a serine- and glycine-free diet, the authors are able to prevent the onset of episodic paralysis. This study suggests that loss of α2-Na/K ATPase in astrocytes may affect amino acid metabolism in the brain, ultimately leading to episodic paralysis.

    • George Andrew S. Inglis
    Research Highlight Open Access
  • A huge amount of intrigue surrounds the aging process. Senescence—the decreased likelihood of reproduction and the increased chance of mortality—is a hallmark of aging. The reduced ability of senescent cells to maintain protein homeostasis (proteostasis) has been well-established in nematodes but this phenomenon had yet to be directly demonstrated in human cells. Sabath et al. recently provided compelling evidence that proteostasis collapse is indeed intrinsic to human cell senescence, which may have broad implications in the underlying processes of human aging.

    • Karli Montague-Cardoso
    Research Highlight Open Access
  • Protein aggregation and phase separation appear to play important roles in diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar dementia (FTLD), but the interplay between different participating molecular events-which may facilitate or inhibit one another-can be difficult to study by conventional ensemble methods. In a recent study, Kevin Rhine and co-workers make use of point mutations to demonstrate the contrasting behaviour of condensates arising from Glycine and Arginine FUS mutants using single molecules fluorescence measurements.

    • Krishnananda Chattopadhyay
    Research Highlight Open Access
  • The CRISPR-Cas toolbox allows genetic manipulation of cultured cells, plants and animals on the basis of simpler RNA-guided DNA recognition. It has provided breakthrough scientific opportunities to engineer desirable traits, cure genetic diseases and enable point-of-care diagnostics. A recent study by Joseph Bondy-Denomy and colleagues further equips this toolbox to cut larger chunks of DNA from a cell’s genome.

    • Anam Akhtar
    Research Highlight Open Access
  • It doesn’t take much to disrupt our sleep. Whilst we are aware of environmental factors that can disturb our circadian rhythms, the precise mechanisms that control molecular time cues have remained elusive. Beesley and co-workers demonstrate that diseases associated with cytoplasmic crowding affect the sleep-wake cycle. They also pinpoint a precise time-limiting step in the trafficking of the pacemaker protein PERIOD.

    • Karli Montague-Cardoso
    Research Highlight Open Access
  • While much of the work examining the ecological effects of marine warming events focuses on the magnitude and duration of elevated temperatures, a recent study from Amatzia Genin and colleagues investigates how the rate of onset of warming affects the mortality of reef fish in the Red Sea. These authors document fish mortality following two warming events with dramatic increases in temperature and report that piscivores and benthic grazers were disproportionately represented among the found carcasses. Many of these fish were infected with a bacterial pathogen following the warming event. This study points to the rate of warming increase as a critical parameter to be considered when assessing the ecological effects of marine warming events, including those for which the peak temperature is not anomalous.

    • Caitlin Karniski
    Research Highlight Open Access
  • Aberrant cell signalling has been associated with a number of diseases. Belluati and coworkers make use of dual polymer nanocompartments encapsulating different enzymes, that function in unison as in a native signalling cascade. Their functionality is integrated into native cell metabolism and physiology, using substrates already present in the extracellular medium. They succeed in amplifying a natural signalling cascade and influencing cellular homoeostasis.

    • Anam Akhtar
    Research Highlight Open Access
  • Sabre-toothed carnivores are among the most famed vertebrate fossils in the world. The sabre-tooth ecomorph has been converged upon repeatedly by distantly related species throughout mammalian evolution. Lautenschlager et al. employ a range of biomechanical analyses to investigate the functional diversity of sabre-toothed skulls. Across 66 species, broad functional diversity is recovered with implications for prey specialization and niche partitioning, despite being morphologically convergent.

    • Luke R. Grinham
    Research Highlight Open Access
  • While polygyny is common among vertebrates, polygyny with mate fidelity has not yet been demonstrated in amphibians. A recent study by Fábio de Sá and colleagues shows that single male saxicolous frogs share a breeding territory with two females and mate multiple times with them over the course of a breeding season. These authors attribute the evolution of this mating system to the intense competition for territories and mates when access to these resources is scarce.

    • Caitlin Karniski
    Research Highlight Open Access
  • The origins of Ornithodira (the last common ancestor of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and their descendants) are yet to be resolved, and have the potential to inform on the diversification of some of the most intriguing ecologies and body forms to evolve in reptiles. A recent discovery of an extremely small ornithodiran archosaur by Christian Kammerer and colleagues is indicative of a miniaturisation event early in the evolution of Ornithodira. This raises questions about the evolution of characters associated with small body forms in these groups, such as flight and body surface integument.

    • Luke R. Grinham
    Research Highlight Open Access