New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 21 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:
Heterochronic Shift in Hox-Mediated Activation of Sonic hedgehog Leads to Morphological Changes during Fin Development:

We explored the molecular mechanisms of morphological transformations of vertebrate paired fin/limb evolution by comparative gene expression profiling and functional analyses. In this study, we focused on the temporal differences of the onset of Sonic hedgehog (Shh) expression in paired appendages among different vertebrates. In limb buds of chick and mouse, Shh expression is activated as soon as there is a morphological bud, concomitant with Hoxd10 expression. In dogfish (Scyliorhinus canicula), however, we found that Shh was transcribed late in fin development, concomitant with Hoxd13 expression. We utilized zebrafish as a model to determine whether quantitative changes in hox expression alter the timing of shh expression in pectoral fins of zebrafish embryos. We found that the temporal shift of Shh activity altered the size of endoskeletal elements in paired fins of zebrafish and dogfish. Thus, a threshold level of hox expression determines the onset of shh expression, and the subsequent heterochronic shift of Shh activity can affect the size of the fin endoskeleton. This process may have facilitated major morphological changes in paired appendages during vertebrate limb evolution.

Cellular Phone Enabled Non-Invasive Tissue Classifier:

Cellular phone technology is emerging as an important tool in the effort to provide advanced medical care to the majority of the world population currently without access to such care. In this study, we show that non-invasive electrical measurements and the use of classifier software can be combined with cellular phone technology to produce inexpensive tissue characterization. This concept was demonstrated by the use of a Support Vector Machine (SVM) classifier to distinguish through the cellular phone between heart and kidney tissue via the non-invasive multi-frequency electrical measurements acquired around the tissues. After the measurements were performed at a remote site, the raw data were transmitted through the cellular phone to a central computational site and the classifier was applied to the raw data. The results of the tissue analysis were returned to the remote data measurement site. The classifiers correctly determined the tissue type with a specificity of over 90%. When used for the detection of malignant tumors, classifiers can be designed to produce false positives in order to ensure that no tumors will be missed. This mode of operation has applications in remote non-invasive tissue diagnostics in situ in the body, in combination with medical imaging, as well as in remote diagnostics of biopsy samples in vitro.

Artificial Gravity Reveals that Economy of Action Determines the Stability of Sensorimotor Coordination:

When we move along in time with a piece of music, we synchronise the downward phase of our gesture with the beat. While it is easy to demonstrate this tendency, there is considerable debate as to its neural origins. It may have a structural basis, whereby the gravitational field acts as an orientation reference that biases the formulation of motor commands. Alternatively, it may be functional, and related to the economy with which motion assisted by gravity can be generated by the motor system. We used a robotic system to generate a mathematical model of the gravitational forces acting upon the hand, and then to reverse the effect of gravity, and invert the weight of the limb. In these circumstances, patterns of coordination in which the upward phase of rhythmic hand movements coincided with the beat of a metronome were more stable than those in which downward movements were made on the beat. When a normal gravitational force was present, movements made down-on-the-beat were more stable than those made up-on-the-beat. The ubiquitous tendency to make a downward movement on a musical beat arises not from the perception of gravity, but as a result of the economy of action that derives from its exploitation.

Chronic Exposure to the Herbicide, Atrazine, Causes Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Insulin Resistance:

There is an apparent overlap between areas in the USA where the herbicide, atrazine (ATZ), is heavily used and obesity-prevalence maps of people with a BMI over 30. Given that herbicides act on photosystem II of the thylakoid membrane of chloroplasts, which have a functional structure similar to mitochondria, we investigated whether chronic exposure to low concentrations of ATZ might cause obesity or insulin resistance by damaging mitochondrial function. Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 48) were treated for 5 months with low concentrations (30 or 300 µg kg−1 day−1) of ATZ provided in drinking water. One group of animals was fed a regular diet for the entire period, and another group of animals was fed a high-fat diet (40% fat) for 2 months after 3 months of regular diet. Various parameters of insulin resistance were measured. Morphology and functional activities of mitochondria were evaluated in tissues of ATZ-exposed animals and in isolated mitochondria. Chronic administration of ATZ decreased basal metabolic rate, and increased body weight, intra-abdominal fat and insulin resistance without changing food intake or physical activity level. A high-fat diet further exacerbated insulin resistance and obesity. Mitochondria in skeletal muscle and liver of ATZ-treated rats were swollen with disrupted cristae. ATZ blocked the activities of oxidative phosphorylation complexes I and III, resulting in decreased oxygen consumption. It also suppressed the insulin-mediated phosphorylation of Akt. These results suggest that long-term exposure to the herbicide ATZ might contribute to the development of insulin resistance and obesity, particularly where a high-fat diet is prevalent.

Functional Maps of Human Auditory Cortex: Effects of Acoustic Features and Attention:

While human auditory cortex is known to contain tonotopically organized auditory cortical fields (ACFs), little is known about how processing in these fields is modulated by other acoustic features or by attention. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and population-based cortical surface analysis to characterize the tonotopic organization of human auditory cortex and analyze the influence of tone intensity, ear of delivery, scanner background noise, and intermodal selective attention on auditory cortex activations. Medial auditory cortex surrounding Heschl’s gyrus showed large sensory (unattended) activations with two mirror-symmetric tonotopic fields similar to those observed in non-human primates. Sensory responses in medial regions had symmetrical distributions with respect to the left and right hemispheres, were enlarged for tones of increased intensity, and were enhanced when sparse image acquisition reduced scanner acoustic noise. Spatial distribution analysis suggested that changes in tone intensity shifted activation within isofrequency bands. Activations to monaural tones were enhanced over the hemisphere contralateral to stimulation, where they produced activations similar to those produced by binaural sounds. Lateral regions of auditory cortex showed small sensory responses that were larger in the right than left hemisphere, lacked tonotopic organization, and were uninfluenced by acoustic parameters. Sensory responses in both medial and lateral auditory cortex decreased in magnitude throughout stimulus blocks. Attention-related modulations (ARMs) were larger in lateral than medial regions of auditory cortex and appeared to arise primarily in belt and parabelt auditory fields. ARMs lacked tonotopic organization, were unaffected by acoustic parameters, and had distributions that were distinct from those of sensory responses. Unlike the gradual adaptation seen for sensory responses, ARMs increased in amplitude throughout stimulus blocks. The results are consistent with the view that medial regions of human auditory cortex contain tonotopically organized core and belt fields that map the basic acoustic features of sounds while surrounding higher-order parabelt regions are tuned to more abstract stimulus attributes. Intermodal selective attention enhances processing in neuronal populations that are partially distinct from those activated by unattended stimuli.

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