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This Week in PLOS: Dec 24, 2012

In PLOS Genetics, an international research group delves into the genetics of chronic pain. After using a heat test to quantify pain susceptibility in more than 2,500 TwinsUK project participants, investigators did exome sequencing on a few hundred women from the cohort's pain-sensitive and -insensitive extremes: 203 pain-sensitive or insensitive individuals from TwinsUK1 and 210 pain-prone or tolerant women from the study's second phase. Researchers didn't see any individual protein-coding variants with strong ties to pain sensitivity. But their network analysis pointed to a pain-related role for a pathway centered around angiotensin II, a blood pressure regulating peptide hormone implicated in past pain studies.

Stanford University's Stanley Rockson and his colleagues look at transcriptional patterns associated with lymphedema — a chronic lymphatic disease that causes tissue swelling and inflammation — in PLOS One. Drawing on microarray-based gene expression data on skin samples from 27 lymphedema cases and a dozen unaffected individuals, the team focused in on six proteins with apparent links to the disease. These proteins appear to show promise for distinguishing another 36 cases from 15 controls, study authors say, prompting them to argue that "[f]urther studies are warranted to determine whether this newly-identified biomarker panel will possess utility as an instrument for in vitro diagnosis of early and latent disease."

"[T]he ultimate applicability to risk stratification, quantitation of disease burden, and response to therapy can easily be envisioned," they add.

A PLOS Pathogens study follows influenza A virus transmission and evolution within and between horses over time during an equine influenza outbreak. Researchers from the UK and the US sequenced the hemagglutinin 1 gene in influenza A viruses from nasal swabs from 50 horses sampled at nearly two-dozen yards during a 2003 equine flu outbreak in the UK. A few horses were sampled at more than one time point during that outbreak. "The [equine influenza virus] populations displayed high levels of genetic diversity," the research group writes, "and in many cases we observed distinct viral populations containing a dominant variant and a number of related minor variants that were transmitted between infectious horses."