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This Week in PLOS: Jan 7, 2019

In PLOS Genetics, a team led by investigators in the US and China explores ties between the placental transcriptome and traits such as birth weight, childhood obesity, and body mass index in childhood. Starting with data from prior genome-wide association analyses, the researchers narrowed in on a handful of expression quantitative trait loci and placental transcripts that coincided with variants implicated in birth and childhood weight features. Based on these and other findings, the authors suggest that "placental transcription and related functions defined by identified trait genes play important roles in determining [birth weight], [childhood obesity], and [childhood BMI]."

Researchers at Hunan Normal University, Johns Hopkins University, and elsewhere report on results from an RNA sequencing-based analysis of human endogenous retrovirus expression in the human brain for a PLOS One paper. Using publicly available RNA-seq data for post-mortem samples from 111 individuals with psychiatric diagnoses and 51 without, the team tracked HERV expression — including transcripts from W and H family HERVs — in the anterior cingulate cortex, hippocampus, and orbito-frontal cortex regions of the brain. The results point to a potential rise in HERV-W and HERV-H expression in the brain in individuals with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder compared to unaffected controls, with the transcript levels varying from one brain region to the next.

A team from Australia and Japan describes potential colorectal cancer-related microRNAs for another paper appearing in PLOS One. The researchers identified hundreds of candidate miRNAs in microvesicles and exosomes from primary and metastatic CRC cell lines with deep RNA-seq on cell lysates, purified microvesicles, and purified exosomes, comparing these miRNAs to those found in analyses of almost 600 stage I to stage IV CRC tumors profiled for the Cancer Genome Atlas Project to narrow in on a candidate miRNA called miR-7641 that appears to be found at enhanced levels in secreted extracellular vesicles from the primary and the metastatic CRC cell lines.