New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 15 new articles in PLoS ONE today. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:
Web Queries as a Source for Syndromic Surveillance:

In the field of syndromic surveillance, various sources are exploited for outbreak detection, monitoring and prediction. This paper describes a study on queries submitted to a medical web site, with influenza as a case study. The hypothesis of the work was that queries on influenza and influenza-like illness would provide a basis for the estimation of the timing of the peak and the intensity of the yearly influenza outbreaks that would be as good as the existing laboratory and sentinel surveillance. We calculated the occurrence of various queries related to influenza from search logs submitted to a Swedish medical web site for two influenza seasons. These figures were subsequently used to generate two models, one to estimate the number of laboratory verified influenza cases and one to estimate the proportion of patients with influenza-like illness reported by selected General Practitioners in Sweden. We applied an approach designed for highly correlated data, partial least squares regression. In our work, we found that certain web queries on influenza follow the same pattern as that obtained by the two other surveillance systems for influenza epidemics, and that they have equal power for the estimation of the influenza burden in society. Web queries give a unique access to ill individuals who are not (yet) seeking care. This paper shows the potential of web queries as an accurate, cheap and labour extensive source for syndromic surveillance.

The Fetal Hypothalamus Has the Potential to Generate Cells with a Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) Phenotype:

Neurospheres (NS) are colonies of neural stem and precursor cells capable of differentiating into the central nervous system (CNS) cell lineages upon appropriate culture conditions: neurons, and glial cells. NS were originally derived from the embryonic and adult mouse striatum subventricular zone. More recently, experimental evidence substantiated the isolation of NS from almost any region of the CNS, including the hypothalamus. Here we report a protocol that enables to generate large quantities of NS from both fetal and adult rat hypothalami. We found that either FGF-2 or EGF were capable of inducing NS formation from fetal hypothalamic cultures, but that only FGF-2 is effective in the adult cultures. The hypothalamic-derived NS are capable of differentiating into neurons and glial cells and most notably, as demonstrated by immunocytochemical detection with a specific anti-GnRH antibody, the fetal cultures contain cells that exhibit a GnRH phenotype upon differentiation. This in vitro model should be useful to study the molecular mechanisms involved in GnRH neuronal differentiation.

The Cost of Simplifying Air Travel When Modeling Disease Spread:

Air travel plays a key role in the spread of many pathogens. Modeling the long distance spread of infectious disease in these cases requires an air travel model. Highly detailed air transportation models can be over determined and computationally problematic. We compared the predictions of a simplified air transport model with those of a model of all routes and assessed the impact of differences on models of infectious disease. Using U.S. ticket data from 2007, we compared a simplified “pipe” model, in which individuals flow in and out of the air transport system based on the number of arrivals and departures from a given airport, to a fully saturated model where all routes are modeled individually. We also compared the pipe model to a “gravity” model where the probability of travel is scaled by physical distance; the gravity model did not differ significantly from the pipe model. The pipe model roughly approximated actual air travel, but tended to overestimate the number of trips between small airports and underestimate travel between major east and west coast airports. For most routes, the maximum number of false (or missed) introductions of disease is small (<1 per day) but for a few routes this rate is greatly underestimated by the pipe model. If our interest is in large scale regional and national effects of disease, the simplified pipe model may be adequate. If we are interested in specific effects of interventions on particular air routes or the time for the disease to reach a particular location, a more complex point-to-point model will be more accurate. For many problems a hybrid model that independently models some frequently traveled routes may be the best choice. Regardless of the model used, the effect of simplifications and sensitivity to errors in parameter estimation should be analyzed.

Antiproliferative Effect of Ascorbic Acid Is Associated with the Inhibition of Genes Necessary to Cell Cycle Progression:

Ascorbic acid (AA), or Vitamin C, is most well known as a nutritional supplement with antioxidant properties. Recently, we demonstrated that high concentrations of AA act on PMP22 gene expression and partially correct the Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease phenotype in a mouse model. This is due to the capacity of AA, but not other antioxidants, to down-modulate cAMP intracellular concentration by a competitive inhibition of the adenylate cyclase enzymatic activity. Because of the critical role of cAMP in intracellular signalling, we decided to explore the possibility that ascorbic acid could modulate the expression of other genes. Using human pangenomic microarrays, we found that AA inhibited the expression of two categories of genes necessary for cell cycle progression, tRNA synthetases and translation initiation factor subunits. In in vitro assays, we demonstrated that AA induced the S-phase arrest of proliferative normal and tumor cells. Highest concentrations of AA leaded to necrotic cell death. However, quiescent cells were not susceptible to AA toxicity, suggesting the blockage of protein synthesis was mainly detrimental in metabolically-active cells. Using animal models, we found that high concentrations of AA inhibited tumor progression in nude mice grafted with HT29 cells (derived from human colon carcinoma). Consistently, expression of tRNA synthetases and ieF2 appeared to be specifically decreased in tumors upon AA treatment. AA has an antiproliferative activity, at elevated concentration that could be obtained using IV injection. This activity has been observed in vitro as well in vivo and likely results from the inhibition of expression of genes involved in protein synthesis. Implications for a clinical use in anticancer therapies will be discussed.

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