McGill University Exploring Link Between Childhood Abuse and Adult Suicide

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Canadian weekly magazine Maclean’s has published a brief article profiling the ongoing work of Dr. Moshe Szyf of McGill University, who for years has been at the forefront of cancer and nutritional epigenetics. Dr. Szyf is currently collaborating with McGill neuroscientist Dr. Gustavo Terecki, director of the McGill Group for Suicide Studies. A brief synopsis and early results from the study:

The brains of eight men who had died were analyzed. Their medical records showed that each of them had experienced childhood abuse — physical, sexual or mental, or a combination of the three. All had committed suicide in their mid-thirties. The chemical marking on their brain DNA was compared to that of people who had non-abusive childhoods and died of natural causes.The results will likely be published later this year, but Maclean’s was given an early synopsis. The gene regulating stress was less active in the eight men. Szyf and Turecki both speculate this left the men hard-wired to have problems coping, which may have contributed to their suicides. 

Dr. Moshe Szyf was also founder of biopharmaceutical company MethylGene, Inc., and was the founding editor of the Landes Bioscience journal Epigenetics. Link

This Week’s NOVA scienceNOW to Feature Segment on Epigenetics

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It appears that the July 24, 2007 edition of NOVA scienceNOW on PBS will feature a segment on epigenetics, highlighting some of the work being done by researchers that we have covered here before (Duke University’s Randy Jirtle, among others). You’ll have to check your local listings for air time in your area. The segment video will be available at the PBS web site on July 25.

As part of the feature, PBS is accepting questions for Randy Jirtle regarding epigenetics and “how our lifestyles might affect the health of our children and even grandchildren.” His answers will be available on July 30. Link

PLoS ONE Adds Five Star Ratings for Research Papers

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A new feature has been added this week to the open access journal PLoS ONE, which was launched just last year. In addition to accepting comments and annotations on individual research articles, the journal is now allowing registered users to rate each paper in three categories: Insight, Reliability, and Style. The resulting average score (on a five star scale) is clearly visible to anyone reading the paper, and the rating box can be expanded to show ratings in each category, as well as the users that rated the paper and additional information about them. Additionally, those that leave ratings on papers can add a brief comment to the rating, which is meant to be shorter than a full annotation to a paper.

Thus far, PLoS ONE’s editors have not indicated if the ratings will be used as the basis for an aggregate list of, say, the top 10 rated articles published in the journal. As a new, online-only journal that has thus far been regarded as the dump station for rejected articles from the other PLoS journals, I see this feature getting little use — perhaps more than the annotation feature is currently used, but not enough to get any other major journals to hop on the trend.

Nonetheless, the journal’s staff is encouraging readers of PLoS ONE to “Never read a paper on PLoS ONE without leaving a rating!” We’ll wait and see if the readers will heed the encouragement. Link

2007 Epigenetics Gordon Conference Schedule Set and Oversubscribed

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This year’s Gordon Conference in Epigenetics, to be held August 5-10 at the Holderness School in Plymouth, NH, is oversubscribed and will not be accepting more attendees unless there are cancellations. However, the full conference schedule has been posted, with sessions in:

  • Epigenomics
  • DNA Methylation
  • Histone Modifications and Variants
  • Imprinting, Dosage Compensation and Chromosomal Mechanisms
  • Roles of RNA I
  • Roles of RNA II
  • Regulation of Chromatin
  • Epigenetics in Development
  • Disease, Environment, Evolution

I have to commend conference chairs Anne Ferguson-Smith and Steve Jacobsen, as well as vice chairs Jeannie Lee and Ueli Grossniklaus, for putting together a phenomenal list of speakers. Hopefully the conference will spur an open exchange of ideas and debate and allow leading researchers to interact in a closed environment. Link 

SensiGen Secures Option for Licensing Lupus Biomarkers

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Ann Arbor, Michigan-based SensiGen LLC has acquired an option to license a set of epigenetic biomarkers for the early detection and monitoring of lupus from the University of Michigan. The technology consists of “a patented panel of proprietary biomarkers for epigenetic variations of genes uniquely associated with Lupus along with related research assays.

We previously covered the epigenetics of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) in June 2006 when a review article (published by researchers at the University of Michigan) concisely described the “epigenetic face” of the disease:

For instance, drugs that demethylate T cells, such as 5-azacytidine, are used by researchers to induce lupus-like disease in mice. Additionally, demethylation of certain gene promoter and regulatory sequences contributes to aberrant overexpression of various genes. Both of these findings suggest that DNA methylation may play a role in the development of lupus.

Histone modifications may also play a role in the development of SLE. SLE Th cells show abnormal expression of certain gene products involved in regulation of the immune system, but these effects can be reversed with treatment using a histone deacetylase inhibitor. This finding provides evidence that histone modifications, another epigenetic alteration, could play a role in the development of lupus as well.

Link to the SensiGen press release

Summer Vacation in the Canadian Rockies

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The week-long trip to British Columbia, Canada is now complete. The family and I had a great time sightseeing, kayaking, and spotting black bears, elk, and plenty of deer.

In the meantime, it looks like I missed plenty of new epigenetics research that was published over the past week or two. I’ll be trying to catch up over the course of the week.

Unfortunately the guest blogger idea never panned out. Perhaps next time I’ll have the common sense to schedule posts to occur over the course of the time that I’m away. 

Black Bear