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This Week in PNAS: Feb 26, 2013

In the early, online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a UK team describes gene expression shifts in blood samples from people deprived of sufficient shuteye. Array-based transcripome profiling on samples from 26 individuals involved in week-long sleep restriction experiments indicated that insufficient snoozing can lead to higher- or lower-than-usual expression of hundreds of genes in the blood, the researchers report. Those included genes implicated in circadian rhythm, metabolism, immunity, inflammation, and more, prompting the study's authors to argue that "insufficient sleep affects the human blood transcriptome, disrupts its circadian regulation, and intensifies the effects of acute total sleep deprivation."

A Duke University- and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences-led group exploring the developmental influences of bisphenol A saw signs that the widespread chemical can produce epigenetic changes that curb the expression of a potassium chloride co-transporter gene called Kcc2 in cell lines produced from rat, mouse, or human cortical neurons. Follow-up experiments — including chromatin immunoprecipitation analyses showing shifts in histone and methyl binding protein levels near the Kcc2 gene in BPA-exposed neuron — further hinted that BPA is linked to epigenetic changes that alter aspects of cortical neuron development and signaling in rodents and perhaps other mammals.

Finally, the Scripps Research Institute's Kim Janda and colleagues from the US and Germany report on a potential biomarker for river blindness, or onchocerciasis, a neglected tropical disease caused by the parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus. The investigators performed metabolomic profiling on urine samples from African individuals with or without O. volvulus infections, using liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry to screen compounds in these samples. The search led to an apparent O. volvulus metabolite nicknamed NATOG, which was present in infection-positive samples in the initial analyses and in follow-up experiments. "The discovery of NATOG as a biomarker for O. volvulus should prove valuable in the development of a diagnostic," researchers write, "which will assist in facilitating disease elimination."