Scielo RSS <![CDATA[Biological Research]]> vol. 44 num. 1 lang. en <![CDATA[SciELO Logo]]> <![CDATA[<b>Contributions by researchers of "Ciencia de Frontera" of the Chilean Academy of Sciences</b>]]> <![CDATA[Sublethal concentrations of waterborne copper induce cellular stress and cell death in zebrafish embryos and larvae]]> Copper is an essential ion that forms part of the active sites of many proteins. At the same time, an excess of this metal produces free radicals that are toxic for cells and organisms. Fish have been used extensively to study the effects of metals, including copper, present in food or the environment. It has been shown that different metals induce different adaptive responses in adult fish. However, until now, scant information has been available about the responses that are induced by waterborne copper during early life stages of fish. Here, acute toxicity tests and LC50 curves have been generated for zebrafish larvae exposed to dissolved copper sulphate at different concentrations and for different treatment times. We determined that the larvae incorporate and accumulate copper present in the medium in a concentration-dependent manner, resulting in changes in gene expression. Using a transgenic fish line that expresses enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) under the hsp70 promoter, we monitored tissue-specific stress responses to waterborne copper by following expression of the reporter. Furthermore, TUNEL assays revealed which tissues are more susceptible to cell death after exposure to copper. Our results establish a framework for the analysis of whole-organism management of excess external copper in developing aquatic animals. <![CDATA[Location matters: the endoplasmic reticulum and protein trafficking in dendrites]]> Neurons are highly polarized, but the trafficking mechanisms that operate in these cells and the topological organization of their secretory organelles are still poorly understood. Particularly incipient is our knowledge of the role of the neuronal endoplasmic reticulum. Here we review the current understanding of the endoplasmic reticulum in neurons, its structure, composition, dendritic distribution and dynamics. We also focus on the trafficking of proteins through the dendritic endoplasmic reticulum, emphasizing the relevance of transport, retention, assembly of multi-subunit protein complexes and export. We additionally discuss the roles of the dendritic endoplasmic reticulum in synaptic plasticity. <![CDATA[The balance between GMD and OFUT1 regulates Notch signaling pathway activity by modulating Notch stability]]> The Notch signaling pathway plays an important role in development and physiology. In Drosophila, Notch is activated by its Delta or Serrate ligands, depending in part on the sugar modifications present in its extracellular domain. O-fucosyltransferase-1 (OFUT1) performs the first glycosylation step in this process, O-fucosylating various EGF repeats at the Notch extracellular domain. Besides its O-fucosyltransferase activity, OFUT1 also behaves as a chaperone during Notch synthesis and is able to down regulate Notch by enhancing its endocytosis and degradation. We have reevaluated the roles that O-fucosylation and the synthesis of GDP-fucose play in the regulation of Notch protein stability. Using mutants and the UAS/Gal4 system, we modified in developing tissues the amount of GDP-mannose-deshydratase (GMD), the first enzyme in the synthesis of GDP-fucose. Our results show that GMD activity, and likely the levels of GDP-fucose and O-fucosylation, are essential to stabilize the Notch protein. Notch degradation observed under low GMD expression is absolutely dependent on OFUT1 and this is also observed in Notch Abruptex mutants, which have mutations in some potential O-fucosylated EGF domains. We propose that the GDP-fucose/OFUT1 balance determines the ability of OFUT1 to endocytose and degrade Notch in a manner that is independent of the residues affected by Abruptex mutations in Notch EGF domains. <![CDATA[<strong>Regulation of cell polarity by controlled proteolytic systems</strong>]]> Epithelial and neuronal cells are highly asymmetric, with discrete regions responsible for different roles that underlie the generation of specific compartments within cells that are distinct in biochemical composition, structure, and morphology that ultimately lead to distinct functions. Controlled and specific molecular targeting and sorting have been studied to understand the generation of asymmetric domains inside cells. Recently, a new and complementary explanation has emerged to account for the generation of domains that are enriched by a subset of proteins or polarization determinants: local proteolysis. In this review, we discuss the most conspicuous proteolytic systems that may contribute to the generation of cell polarity, namely the ubiquitin-proteosome and the calpain systems. Specifically, we focus this review on two cellular processes that depend on the acquisition of cell polarity; cell migration and the establishment of an axon in a neuronal cell. <![CDATA[Nanoinformatics: an emerging area of information technology at the intersection of bioinformatics, computational chemistry and nanobiotechnology]]> After the progress made during the genomics era, bioinformatics was tasked with supporting the flow of information generated by nanobiotechnology efforts. This challenge requires adapting classical bioinformatic and computational chemistry tools to store, standardize, analyze, and visualize nanobiotechnological information. Thus, old and new bioinformatic and computational chemistry tools have been merged into a new sub-discipline: nanoinformatics. This review takes a second look at the development of this new and exciting area as seen from the perspective of the evolution of nanobiotechnology applied to the life sciences. The knowledge obtained at the nano-scale level implies answers to new questions and the development of new concepts in different fields. The rapid convergence of technologies around nanobiotechnologies has spun off collaborative networks and web platforms created for sharing and discussing the knowledge generated in nanobiotechnology. The implementation of new database schemes suitable for storage, processing and integrating physical, chemical, and biological properties of nanoparticles will be a key element in achieving the promises in this convergent field. In this work, we will review some applications of nanobiotechnology to life sciences in generating new requirements for diverse scientific fields, such as bioinformatics and computational chemistry. <![CDATA[<strong>Contribution of dendritic cell/T cell interactions to triggering and maintaining autoimmunity</strong>]]> Under healthy conditions, there is a balance between tolerance to self-tissue constituents and immunity against foreign antigens. Autoimmunity diseases (AD) take place when that equilibrium is disrupted and the immune response is directed to self-antigens, leading to injury or destruction of host tissues. The mechanisms conducing to the loss of immune tolerance remain largely unknown. The recent appearance of biological therapies has contributed to significant reduction in morbidity. However, currently available therapies are associated with important side effects and work only as palliative treatments. Dendritic cells (DCs) have emerged as key players in developing and maintaining adaptive immunity due to their capacity to prime and modulate T cell function. Therefore, because DCs work as central modulators of immune tolerance, it is likely that alterations in their function can lead to the onset of autoimmune-inflammatory diseases. By modulating DC function, novel pathways in antigen-specific tolerance could be established. In this article, the possible contribution of altered DC-T cell interactions to the onset of autoimmunity are discussed. In addition, we expand on the notion that some of the functions of these cells could be relevant targets for intervening therapies aimed to restore the balance or even prevent the loss of tolerance. <![CDATA[<strong>SHh activity and localization is regulated by perlecan</strong>]]> Proliferation and cell fate determination in the developing embryo are extrinsically regulated by multiple interactions among diverse secreted factors, such as Sonic Hedgehog (SHh), which act in a concentration-dependent manner. The fact that SHh is secreted as a lipid-modified protein suggests the existence of a mechanism to regulate its movement across embryonic fields. We have previously shown that heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs) are required for SHh binding and signalling. However, it was not determined which specific HSPG was responsible for these functions. Here we evaluated the contribution of perlecan on SHh localization and activity. To understand the mechanism of action of perlecan at the cellular level, we studied the role of perlecan-SHh interaction in SHh activity using both cell culture and biochemical assays. Our findings show that perlecan is a crucial anchor and modulator of SHh activity acting as an extracellular positive regulator of SHh. <![CDATA[Effects of shape variations on the energy metabolism of the sand cricket <i>Gryllus firmus</i>: a geometric morphometric analysis]]> Respiration and energy metabolism are key processes in animals, which are severely constrained by the design of physical structures, such as respiratory structures. Insects have very particular respiratory systems, based on gas diffusion across tracheae. Since the efficiency of the tracheal respiratory system is highly dependent on body shape, the pattern of morphological variation during ontogeny could have important metabolic consequences. We studied this problem combining through-flow respirometry and geometric morphometrics in 88 nymphs of the sand cricket, Gryllus firmus. After measuring production in each individual, we took digital photographs and defined eight landmarks for geometric morphometric analysis. The analysis suggested that ontogenic deformations were mostly related to enlargement of the abdomen, compared to thorax and head. We found that (controlling for body size) metabolic variables and especially resting metabolism are positively correlated with a shape-component associated to an elongation of the abdomen. Our results are in agreement with the mechanics of tracheal ventilation in orthopterans, as gas circulation occurs by changes in abdominal pressures due to abdominal contractions and expansions along the longitudinal axis. <![CDATA[<strong>The physiological role of the unfolded protein response in plants</strong>]]> Unfolded protein response (UPR) is a signaling mechanism activated by misfolded protein accumulation in the endoplasmic reticulum. It is a widespread process that has been described in organisms ranging from yeasts to mammals. In recent years, our understanding of UPR signaling pathway in plants has advanced. Two transcription factors from Arabidopsis thaliana have been reported to function as the sensor/ transducer of this response (AtbZIP60 and AtbZIP28). They seem to be involved in both heat and biotic stress. Furthermore, overexpression of one of them (AtbZIP60) produces plants with a higher tolerance for salt stress, suggesting that this transcription factor may play a role in abiotic stress. Furthermore, some data suggest that crosstalk between genes involved in abiotic stress and UPR may also exist in plants. On the other hand, UPR is related to programmed cell death (PCD) in plants given that that triggering UPR results in induction of PCD-related genes. This article reviews the latest progress in understanding UPR signaling in plants and analyzes its relationship to key processes in plant physiology. <![CDATA[Are levels of digestive enzyme activity related to the natural diet in passerine birds?]]> Digestive capabilities, such as the rates nutrient hydrolysis and absorption, may affect energy intake and ultimately feeding behavior. In birds, a high diversity in gut biochemical capabilities seems to support the existence of a correlation between the morphology and physiology of the intestinal tract and chemical features of the natural diet. However, studies correlating the activity of digestive enzymes and the feeding habits at an evolutionary scale are scarce. We investigated the effect of dietary habits on the digestive physiological characteristics of eight species of passerine birds from Central Chile. The Order Passeriformes is a speciose group with a broad dietary spectrum that includes omnivorous, granivorous and insectivorous species. We measured the activity of three enzymes: maltase, sucrase and aminopeptidase-N. Using an autocorrelation analysis to remove the phylogenetic effect, we found that dietary habits had no effect on enzymatic activity. However, we found that granivorous and omnivorous species had higher levels of disaccharidase activities and insectivores had the lowest. The major difference in enzymatic activity found at the inter-specific level, compared to the reported lower magnitude of enzyme modulation owing to dietary acclimation, suggests that these differences to some extent have a genetic basis. However, the lack of a clear association between diet categories and gut physiology suggested us that dietary categorizations do not always reflect the chemical composition of the ingested food. <![CDATA[New Insights into the Roles of Megalin/LRP2 and the Regulation of its Functional Expression]]> Since the discovery of the low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR) and its association with familial hypercholesterolemia in the early 1980s, a family of structurally related proteins has been discovered that has apolipoprotein E as a common ligand, and the broad functions of its members have been described. LRP2, or megalin, is a member of the LDLR family and was initially called gp330. Megalin is an endocytic receptor expressed on the apical surface of several epithelial cells that internalizes a variety of ligands including nutrients, hormones and their carrier proteins, signaling molecules, morphogens, and extracellular matrix proteins. Once internalized, these ligands are directed to the lysosomal degradation pathway or transported by transcytosis from one side of the cell to the opposite membrane. The availability of megalin at the cell surface is controlled by several regulatory mechanisms, including the phosphorylation of its cytoplasmic domain by GSK3, the proteolysis of the extracellular domain at the cell surface (shedding), the subsequent intramembrane proteolysis of the transmembrane domain by the gamma-secretase complex, and exosome secretion. Based on the important roles of its ligands and its tissue expression pattern, megalin has been recognized as an important component of many pathological conditions, including diabetic nephropathy, Lowe syndrome, Dent disease, Alzheimer's disease (AD) and gallstone disease. In addition, the expression of megalin and some of its ligands in the central and peripheral nervous system suggests a role for this receptor in neural regeneration processes. Despite its obvious importance, the regulation of megalin expression is poorly understood. In this review, we describe the functions of megalin and its association with certain pathological conditions as well as the current understanding of the mechanisms that underlie the control of megalin expression. <![CDATA[<strong>Finite size scaling in the local abundances of geographic populations</strong>]]> We analyzed the statistical distribution of intra-specific local abundances for a set North American breeding bird species. We constructed frequency plots for every species and found that they showed long-tail power-law behavior, truncated at an upper abundance cut-off value. Based on finite size scaling arguments, we investigated whether frequency curves may be considered scaled copies of each other. Data collapse was possible after taking powers of the total abundance of each species, in order to correct deviations from the underlying universal finite size scaling function (UFSS). The UFSS power law exponent oscillated in time within the regime of unbounded variance, which is consistent with the wild fluctuations that characterize ecological phenomena. We speculate that our results may eventually be linked to other law-like macroecological phenomena, such as energetic constraints reported in allometric scaling.