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This Week in PLOS: Feb 4, 2019

In PLOS Genetics, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College and elsewhere present a set of microRNAs with potential ties to brain metastasis risk in individuals with lung cancer. The team did array-based miRNA expression profiling to compare miRNAs in 32 non-small cell lung cancer patients with brain metastasis and 55 without, validating half a dozen brain metastasis-related miRNAs in 155 individuals with lung adenocarcinoma. From there, the authors focused on two of the miRNAs — miR-4270 and miR-423-3p — for follow-up analyses, demonstrating that the miRNAs "might be useful markers of [brain metastasis] in lung adenocarcinoma."

A Croatian team reporting in PLOS One explores the prevalence of human papillomavirus infections in that country's oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) cases. Using PCR, immunohistochemistry, and other approaches, the researchers searched for HPV DNA or RNA in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue samples from 99 individual treated for OPSCC over 15 years in Croatia. They saw 40 cases that were HPV DNA-positive, including 29 cases in which HPV RNA could also be detected and 11 cases that were HPV RNA-negative. Comparing the other characteristics of these cases, the authors saw signs that "factors like advanced stage, patient age, or still highly prevalent smoking and drinking in Croatia might be overshadowing the positive effect of HPV seen in Western populations."

Researchers from the University of Groningen, and the Harvard/MIT Health Science and Technology Institute explore the consequences of a Crohn's disease-associated missense mutation in the SLC39A8 gene for another PLOS One paper. Using exome sequencing-based genotyping and 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing on gut microbial community members, the team considered the relationships between the Crohn's disease-associated SLC39A8[Thr]391 allele, disease status, and gut microbiome composition in 767 individuals: 171 Crohn's disease patients, 104 individuals with ulcerative colitis, 16 IBDU patients, and 476 health controls from a population study in the Netherlands. "[W]e could identify the genetic variant to be associated with [Crohn's disease]," the authors report, though "the impact on the microbiome composition was limited to a few [operational taxonomic units]."