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1.  Biomedical research in a Digital Health Framework 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S10.
This article describes a Digital Health Framework (DHF), benefitting from the lessons learnt during the three-year life span of the FP7 Synergy-COPD project. The DHF aims to embrace the emerging requirements - data and tools - of applying systems medicine into healthcare with a three-tier strategy articulating formal healthcare, informal care and biomedical research. Accordingly, it has been constructed based on three key building blocks, namely, novel integrated care services with the support of information and communication technologies, a personal health folder (PHF) and a biomedical research environment (DHF-research). Details on the functional requirements and necessary components of the DHF-research are extensively presented. Finally, the specifics of the building blocks strategy for deployment of the DHF, as well as the steps toward adoption are analyzed. The proposed architectural solutions and implementation steps constitute a pivotal strategy to foster and enable 4P medicine (Predictive, Preventive, Personalized and Participatory) in practice and should provide a head start to any community and institution currently considering to implement a biomedical research platform.
PMCID: PMC4255881  PMID: 25472554
Biomedical Research; Chronic care; Clinical Decision Support Systems; Integrated Health Care Systems; Patient Decision Support Systems; Personal Health Folder
2.  Workforce preparation: the Biohealth computing model for Master and PhD students 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S11.
The article addresses the strategic role of workforce preparation in the process of adoption of Systems Medicine as a driver of biomedical research in the new health paradigm. It reports on relevant initiatives, like CASyM, fostering Systems Medicine at EU level. The chapter focuses on the BioHealth Computing Program as a reference for multidisciplinary training of future systems-oriented researchers describing the productive interactions with the Synergy-COPD project.
PMCID: PMC4255883  PMID: 25472654
Biomedical Research; Education; Integrated Health Care Systems; Master; PhD; Professionals; Systems Medicine; Training
3.  Predictive medicine: outcomes, challenges and opportunities in the Synergy-COPD project 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S12.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a major challenge for healthcare. Heterogeneities in clinical manifestations and in disease progression are relevant traits in COPD with impact on patient management and prognosis. It is hypothesized that COPD heterogeneity results from the interplay of mechanisms governing three conceptually different phenomena: 1) pulmonary disease, 2) systemic effects of COPD and 3) co-morbidity clustering.
To assess the potential of systems medicine to better understand non-pulmonary determinants of COPD heterogeneity. To transfer acquired knowledge to healthcare enhancing subject-specific health risk assessment and stratification to improve management of chronic patients.
Underlying mechanisms of skeletal muscle dysfunction and of co-morbidity clustering in COPD patients were explored with strategies combining deterministic modelling and network medicine analyses using the Biobridge dataset. An independent data driven analysis of co-morbidity clustering examining associated genes and pathways was done (ICD9-CM data from Medicare, 13 million people). A targeted network analysis using the two studies: skeletal muscle dysfunction and co-morbidity clustering explored shared pathways between them.
(1) Evidence of abnormal regulation of pivotal skeletal muscle biological pathways and increased risk for co-morbidity clustering was observed in COPD; (2) shared abnormal pathway regulation between skeletal muscle dysfunction and co-morbidity clustering; and, (3) technological achievements of the projects were: (i) COPD Knowledge Base; (ii) novel modelling approaches; (iii) Simulation Environment; and, (iv) three layers of Clinical Decision Support Systems.
The project demonstrated the high potential of a systems medicine approach to address COPD heterogeneity. Limiting factors for the project development were identified. They were relevant to shape strategies fostering 4P Medicine for chronic patients. The concept of Digital Health Framework and the proposed roadmap for its deployment constituted relevant project outcomes.
PMCID: PMC4255885  PMID: 25472742
chronic diseases; co-morbidities; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; information and communication technologies; modelling; network medicine; training
4.  Synergy-COPD: a systems approach for understanding and managing chronic diseases 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S2.
Chronic diseases (CD) are generating a dramatic societal burden worldwide that is expected to persist over the next decades. The challenges posed by the epidemics of CD have triggered a novel health paradigm with major consequences on the traditional concept of disease and with a profound impact on key aspects of healthcare systems.
We hypothesized that the development of a systems approach to understand CD together with the generation of an ecosystem to transfer the acquired knowledge into the novel healthcare scenario may contribute to a cost-effective enhancement of health outcomes. To this end, we designed the Synergy-COPD project wherein the heterogeneity of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was addressed as a use case representative of CD.
The current manuscript describes main features of the project design and the strategies put in place for its development, as well the expected outcomes during the project life-span. Moreover, the manuscript serves as introductory and unifying chapter of the different papers associated to the Supplement describing the characteristics, tools and the objectives of Synergy-COPD
PMCID: PMC4255903  PMID: 25472826
Chronic Diseases; Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease; COPD; Integrated Care; ICT; Systems Medicine; Predictive Medicine; Telemedicine
5.  Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease heterogeneity: challenges for health risk assessment, stratification and management 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S3.
Background and hypothesis
Heterogeneity in clinical manifestations and disease progression in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) lead to consequences for patient health risk assessment, stratification and management. Implicit with the classical "spill over" hypothesis is that COPD heterogeneity is driven by the pulmonary events of the disease. Alternatively, we hypothesized that COPD heterogeneities result from the interplay of mechanisms governing three conceptually different phenomena: 1) pulmonary disease, 2) systemic effects of COPD and 3) co-morbidity clustering, each of them with their own dynamics.
Objective and method
To explore the potential of a systems analysis of COPD heterogeneity focused on skeletal muscle dysfunction and on co-morbidity clustering aiming at generating predictive modeling with impact on patient management. To this end, strategies combining deterministic modeling and network medicine analyses of the Biobridge dataset were used to investigate the mechanisms of skeletal muscle dysfunction. An independent data driven analysis of co-morbidity clustering examining associated genes and pathways was performed using a large dataset (ICD9-CM data from Medicare, 13 million people). Finally, a targeted network analysis using the outcomes of the two approaches (skeletal muscle dysfunction and co-morbidity clustering) explored shared pathways between these phenomena.
(1) Evidence of abnormal regulation of skeletal muscle bioenergetics and skeletal muscle remodeling showing a significant association with nitroso-redox disequilibrium was observed in COPD; (2) COPD patients presented higher risk for co-morbidity clustering than non-COPD patients increasing with ageing; and, (3) the on-going targeted network analyses suggests shared pathways between skeletal muscle dysfunction and co-morbidity clustering.
The results indicate the high potential of a systems approach to address COPD heterogeneity. Significant knowledge gaps were identified that are relevant to shape strategies aiming at fostering 4P Medicine for patients with COPD.
PMCID: PMC4255905  PMID: 25472887
Chronic diseases; COPD; Disease heterogeneity; Integrated Care; Predictive Medicine; Redox disequilibrium; Systems Medicine; VO2max
6.  Systems Medicine: from molecular features and models to the clinic in COPD 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S4.
Background and hypothesis
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patients are characterized by heterogeneous clinical manifestations and patterns of disease progression. Two major factors that can be used to identify COPD subtypes are muscle dysfunction/wasting and co-morbidity patterns. We hypothesized that COPD heterogeneity is in part the result of complex interactions between several genes and pathways. We explored the possibility of using a Systems Medicine approach to identify such pathways, as well as to generate predictive computational models that may be used in clinic practice.
Objective and method
Our overarching goal is to generate clinically applicable predictive models that characterize COPD heterogeneity through a Systems Medicine approach. To this end we have developed a general framework, consisting of three steps/objectives: (1) feature identification, (2) model generation and statistical validation, and (3) application and validation of the predictive models in the clinical scenario. We used muscle dysfunction and co-morbidity as test cases for this framework.
In the study of muscle wasting we identified relevant features (genes) by a network analysis and generated predictive models that integrate mechanistic and probabilistic models. This allowed us to characterize muscle wasting as a general de-regulation of pathway interactions. In the co-morbidity analysis we identified relevant features (genes/pathways) by the integration of gene-disease and disease-disease associations. We further present a detailed characterization of co-morbidities in COPD patients that was implemented into a predictive model. In both use cases we were able to achieve predictive modeling but we also identified several key challenges, the most pressing being the validation and implementation into actual clinical practice.
The results confirm the potential of the Systems Medicine approach to study complex diseases and generate clinically relevant predictive models. Our study also highlights important obstacles and bottlenecks for such approaches (e.g. data availability and normalization of frameworks among others) and suggests specific proposals to overcome them.
PMCID: PMC4255907  PMID: 25471042
Chronic diseases; COPD; Disease heterogeneity; Systems Medicine; Predictive Modeling; Co-morbidity
7.  The COPD Knowledge Base: enabling data analysis and computational simulation in translational COPD research 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S6.
Previously we generated a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) specific knowledge base ( from clinical and experimental data, text-mining results and public databases. This knowledge base allowed the retrieval of specific molecular networks together with integrated clinical and experimental data.
The COPDKB has now been extended to integrate over 40 public data sources on functional interaction (e.g. signal transduction, transcriptional regulation, protein-protein interaction, gene-disease association). In addition we integrated COPD-specific expression and co-morbidity networks connecting over 6 000 genes/proteins with physiological parameters and disease states. Three mathematical models describing different aspects of systemic effects of COPD were connected to clinical and experimental data. We have completely redesigned the technical architecture of the user interface and now provide html and web browser-based access and form-based searches. A network search enables the use of interconnecting information and the generation of disease-specific sub-networks from general knowledge. Integration with the Synergy-COPD Simulation Environment enables multi-scale integrated simulation of individual computational models while integration with a Clinical Decision Support System allows delivery into clinical practice.
The COPD Knowledge Base is the only publicly available knowledge resource dedicated to COPD and combining genetic information with molecular, physiological and clinical data as well as mathematical modelling. Its integrated analysis functions provide overviews about clinical trends and connections while its semantically mapped content enables complex analysis approaches. We plan to further extend the COPDKB by offering it as a repository to publish and semantically integrate data from relevant clinical trials. The COPDKB is freely available after registration at
PMCID: PMC4255911  PMID: 25471253
8.  Oxygen Pathway Modeling Estimates High Reactive Oxygen Species Production above the Highest Permanent Human Habitation 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e111068.
The production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) from the inner mitochondrial membrane is one of many fundamental processes governing the balance between health and disease. It is well known that ROS are necessary signaling molecules in gene expression, yet when expressed at high levels, ROS may cause oxidative stress and cell damage. Both hypoxia and hyperoxia may alter ROS production by changing mitochondrial Po2 (). Because depends on the balance between O2 transport and utilization, we formulated an integrative mathematical model of O2 transport and utilization in skeletal muscle to predict conditions to cause abnormally high ROS generation. Simulations using data from healthy subjects during maximal exercise at sea level reveal little mitochondrial ROS production. However, altitude triggers high mitochondrial ROS production in muscle regions with high metabolic capacity but limited O2 delivery. This altitude roughly coincides with the highest location of permanent human habitation. Above 25,000 ft., more than 90% of exercising muscle is predicted to produce abnormally high levels of ROS, corresponding to the “death zone” in mountaineering.
PMCID: PMC4222897  PMID: 25375931
9.  Cardiovascular Disease-Related Parameters and Oxidative Stress in SHROB Rats, a Model for Metabolic Syndrome 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e104637.
SHROB rats have been suggested as a model for metabolic syndrome (MetS) as a situation prior to the onset of CVD or type-2 diabetes, but information on descriptive biochemical parameters for this model is limited. Here, we extensively evaluate parameters related to CVD and oxidative stress (OS) in SHROB rats. SHROB rats were monitored for 15 weeks and compared to a control group of Wistar rats. Body weight was recorded weekly. At the end of the study, parameters related to CVD and OS were evaluated in plasma, urine and different organs. SHROB rats presented statistically significant differences from Wistar rats in CVD risk factors: total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, apoA1, apoB100, abdominal fat, insulin, blood pressure, C-reactive protein, ICAM-1 and PAI-1. In adipose tissue, liver and brain, the endogenous antioxidant systems were activated, yet there was no significant oxidative damage to lipids (MDA) or proteins (carbonylation). We conclude that SHROB rats present significant alterations in parameters related to inflammation, endothelial dysfunction, thrombotic activity, insulin resistance and OS measured in plasma as well as enhanced redox defence systems in vital organs that will be useful as markers of MetS and CVD for nutrition interventions.
PMCID: PMC4130542  PMID: 25115868
10.  Effects of Cadmium and Mercury on the Upper Part of Skeletal Muscle Glycolysis in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e80018.
The effects of pre-incubation with mercury (Hg2+) and cadmium (Cd2+) on the activities of individual glycolytic enzymes, on the flux and on internal metabolite concentrations of the upper part of glycolysis were investigated in mouse muscle extracts. In the range of metal concentrations analysed we found that only hexokinase and phosphofructokinase, the enzymes that shared the control of the flux, were inhibited by Hg2+ and Cd2+. The concentrations of the internal metabolites glucose-6-phosphate and fructose-6-phosphate did not change significantly when Hg2+ and Cd2+ were added. A mathematical model was constructed to explore the mechanisms of inhibition of Hg2+ and Cd2+ on hexokinase and phosphofructokinase. Equations derived from detailed mechanistic models for each inhibition were fitted to the experimental data. In a concentration-dependent manner these equations describe the observed inhibition of enzyme activity. Under the conditions analysed, the integral model showed that the simultaneous inhibition of hexokinase and phosphofructokinase explains the observation that the concentrations of glucose-6-phosphate and fructose-6-phosphate did not change as the heavy metals decreased the glycolytic flux.
PMCID: PMC3904826  PMID: 24489641
11.  Cyclin-dependent kinases 4 and 6 control tumor progression and direct glucose oxidation in the pentose cycle 
Cyclin-dependent kinases CDK4 and CDK6 are essential for the control of the cell cycle through the G1 phase. Aberrant expression of CDK4 and CDK6 is a hallmark of cancer, which would suggest that CDK4 and CDK6 are attractive targets for cancer therapy. Herein, we report that calcein AM (the calcein acetoxymethyl-ester) is a potent specific inhibitor of CDK4 and CDK6 in HCT116 human colon adenocarcinoma cells, inhibiting retinoblastoma protein (pRb) phosphorylation and inducing cell cycle arrest in the G1 phase. The metabolic effects of calcein AM on HCT116 cells were also evaluated and the flux between the oxidative and non-oxidative branches of the pentose phosphate pathway was significantly altered. To elucidate whether these metabolic changes were due to the inhibition of CDK4 and CDK6, we also characterized the metabolic profile of a CDK4, CDK6 and CDK2 triple knockout of mouse embryonic fibroblasts. The results show that the metabolic profile associated with the depletion of CDK4, CDK6 and CDK2 coincides with the metabolic changes induced by calcein AM on HCT116 cells, thus confirming that the inhibition of CDK4 and CDK6 disrupts the balance between the oxidative and non-oxidative branches of the pentose phosphate pathway. Taken together, these results indicate that low doses of calcein can halt cell division and kill tumor cells. Thus, selective inhibition of CDK4 and CDK6 may be of greater pharmacological interest, since inhibitors of these kinases affect both cell cycle progression and the robust metabolic profile of tumors.
PMCID: PMC3361763  PMID: 22661920
Cyclin-dependent kinases; CDK-inhibitor; Tracer-based metabolomics; Pentose phosphate pathway; Phase-plane analysis
12.  Maslinic Acid-Enriched Diet Decreases Intestinal Tumorigenesis in ApcMin/+ Mice through Transcriptomic and Metabolomic Reprogramming 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e59392.
Chemoprevention is a pragmatic approach to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer-related death in western countries. In this regard, maslinic acid (MA), a pentacyclic triterpene extracted from wax-like coatings of olives, is known to inhibit proliferation and induce apoptosis in colon cancer cell lines without affecting normal intestinal cells. The present study evaluated the chemopreventive efficacy and associated mechanisms of maslinic acid treatment on spontaneous intestinal tumorigenesis in ApcMin/+ mice. Twenty-two mice were randomized into 2 groups: control group and MA group, fed with a maslinic acid–supplemented diet for six weeks. MA treatment reduced total intestinal polyp formation by 45% (P<0.01). Putative molecular mechanisms associated with suppressing intestinal polyposis in ApcMin/+ mice were investigated by comparing microarray expression profiles of MA-treated and control mice and by analyzing the serum metabolic profile using NMR techniques. The different expression phenotype induced by MA suggested that it exerts its chemopreventive action mainly by inhibiting cell-survival signaling and inflammation. These changes eventually induce G1-phase cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Moreover, the metabolic changes induced by MA treatment were associated with a protective profile against intestinal tumorigenesis. These results show the efficacy and underlying mechanisms of MA against intestinal tumor development in the ApcMin/+ mice model, suggesting its chemopreventive potential against colorectal cancer.
PMCID: PMC3601079  PMID: 23527181
13.  Multistationary and Oscillatory Modes of Free Radicals Generation by the Mitochondrial Respiratory Chain Revealed by a Bifurcation Analysis 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(9):e1002700.
The mitochondrial electron transport chain transforms energy satisfying cellular demand and generates reactive oxygen species (ROS) that act as metabolic signals or destructive factors. Therefore, knowledge of the possible modes and bifurcations of electron transport that affect ROS signaling provides insight into the interrelationship of mitochondrial respiration with cellular metabolism. Here, a bifurcation analysis of a sequence of the electron transport chain models of increasing complexity was used to analyze the contribution of individual components to the modes of respiratory chain behavior. Our algorithm constructed models as large systems of ordinary differential equations describing the time evolution of the distribution of redox states of the respiratory complexes. The most complete model of the respiratory chain and linked metabolic reactions predicted that condensed mitochondria produce more ROS at low succinate concentration and less ROS at high succinate levels than swelled mitochondria. This prediction was validated by measuring ROS production under various swelling conditions. A numerical bifurcation analysis revealed qualitatively different types of multistationary behavior and sustained oscillations in the parameter space near a region that was previously found to describe the behavior of isolated mitochondria. The oscillations in transmembrane potential and ROS generation, observed in living cells were reproduced in the model that includes interaction of respiratory complexes with the reactions of TCA cycle. Whereas multistationarity is an internal characteristic of the respiratory chain, the functional link of respiration with central metabolism creates oscillations, which can be understood as a means of auto-regulation of cell metabolism.
Author Summary
The mitochondrial respiratory chain shows a variety of modes of behavior. In living cells, flashes of ROS production and oscillations accompanied by a decrease of transmembrane potential can be registered. The mechanisms of such complex behavior are difficult to rationalize without a mathematical formalization of mitochondrial respiration. Our most complete model of mitochondrial respiration accounts for the details of electron transport, reproducing the observed types of behavior, which includes the existence of multiple steady states and periodic oscillations. This most detailed model contains hundreds of differential equations, and such complexity makes it difficult to grasp the main determinants of its behavior. Therefore the full model was reduced to a simplified description of complex III only, and numerical bifurcation analysis was used to study its behavior. Then the evolution of its behavior was traced in a sequence of models with increasing complexity leading back to the full model. This analysis revealed the mechanism of switching between the modes of behavior and the conditions for persistence in a given state, which defines ATP production, ROS signaling and destructive effects. This is important for understanding the biochemical basics of many systemic diseases.
PMCID: PMC3447950  PMID: 23028295
14.  Diphenyl Urea Derivatives as Inhibitors of Transketolase: A Structure-Based Virtual Screening 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e32276.
Transketolase is an enzyme involved in a critical step of the non-oxidative branch of the pentose phosphate pathway whose inhibition could lead to new anticancer drugs. Here, we report new human transketolase inhibitors, based on the phenyl urea scaffold, found by applying structure-based virtual screening. These inhibitors are designed to cover a hot spot in the dimerization interface of the homodimer of the enzyme, providing for the first time compounds with a suggested novel binding mode not based on mimicking the thiamine pyrophosphate cofactor.
PMCID: PMC3293897  PMID: 22403640
15.  Compartmentation of glycogen metabolism revealed from 13C isotopologue distributions 
BMC Systems Biology  2011;5:175.
Stable isotope tracers are used to assess metabolic flux profiles in living cells. The existing methods of measurement average out the isotopic isomer distribution in metabolites throughout the cell, whereas the knowledge of compartmental organization of analyzed pathways is crucial for the evaluation of true fluxes. That is why we accepted a challenge to create a software tool that allows deciphering the compartmentation of metabolites based on the analysis of average isotopic isomer distribution.
The software Isodyn, which simulates the dynamics of isotopic isomer distribution in central metabolic pathways, was supplemented by algorithms facilitating the transition between various analyzed metabolic schemes, and by the tools for model discrimination. It simulated 13C isotope distributions in glucose, lactate, glutamate and glycogen, measured by mass spectrometry after incubation of hepatocytes in the presence of only labeled glucose or glucose and lactate together (with label either in glucose or lactate). The simulations assumed either a single intracellular hexose phosphate pool, or also channeling of hexose phosphates resulting in a different isotopic composition of glycogen. Model discrimination test was applied to check the consistency of both models with experimental data. Metabolic flux profiles, evaluated with the accepted model that assumes channeling, revealed the range of changes in metabolic fluxes in liver cells.
The analysis of compartmentation of metabolic networks based on the measured 13C distribution was included in Isodyn as a routine procedure. The advantage of this implementation is that, being a part of evaluation of metabolic fluxes, it does not require additional experiments to study metabolic compartmentation. The analysis of experimental data revealed that the distribution of measured 13C-labeled glucose metabolites is inconsistent with the idea of perfect mixing of hexose phosphates in cytosol. In contrast, the observed distribution indicates the presence of a separate pool of hexose phosphates that is channeled towards glycogen synthesis.
PMCID: PMC3292525  PMID: 22034837
16.  Transketolase-Like 1 Expression Is Modulated during Colorectal Cancer Progression and Metastasis Formation 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e25323.
Transketolase-like 1 (TKTL1) induces glucose degradation through anaerobic pathways, even in presence of oxygen, favoring the malignant aerobic glycolytic phenotype characteristic of tumor cells. As TKTL1 appears to be a valid biomarker for cancer prognosis, the aim of the current study was to correlate its expression with tumor stage, probability of tumor recurrence and survival, in a series of colorectal cancer patients.
Methodolody/Principal Findings
Tumor tissues from 63 patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer at different stages of progression were analyzed for TKTL1 by immunohistochemistry. Staining was quantified by computational image analysis, and correlations between enzyme expression, local growth, lymph-node involvement and metastasis were assessed. The highest values for TKTL1 expression were detected in the group of stage III tumors, which showed significant differences from the other groups (Kruskal-Wallis test, P = 0.000008). Deeper analyses of T, N and M classifications revealed a weak correlation between local tumor growth and enzyme expression (Mann-Whitney test, P = 0.029), a significant association of the enzyme expression with lymph-node involvement (Mann-Whitney test, P = 0.0014) and a significant decrease in TKTL1 expression associated with metastasis (Mann-Whitney test, P = 0.0004).
To our knowledge, few studies have explored the association between variations in TKTL1 expression in the primary tumor and metastasis formation. Here we report downregulation of enzyme expression when metastasis appears, and a correlation between enzyme expression and regional lymph-node involvement in colon cancer. This finding may improve our understanding of metastasis and lead to new and more efficient therapies against cancer.
PMCID: PMC3181277  PMID: 21980427
17.  A Systems Biology Approach Identifies Molecular Networks Defining Skeletal Muscle Abnormalities in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(9):e1002129.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an inflammatory process of the lung inducing persistent airflow limitation. Extensive systemic effects, such as skeletal muscle dysfunction, often characterize these patients and severely limit life expectancy. Despite considerable research efforts, the molecular basis of muscle degeneration in COPD is still a matter of intense debate. In this study, we have applied a network biology approach to model the relationship between muscle molecular and physiological response to training and systemic inflammatory mediators. Our model shows that failure to co-ordinately activate expression of several tissue remodelling and bioenergetics pathways is a specific landmark of COPD diseased muscles. Our findings also suggest that this phenomenon may be linked to an abnormal expression of a number of histone modifiers, which we discovered correlate with oxygen utilization. These observations raised the interesting possibility that cell hypoxia may be a key factor driving skeletal muscle degeneration in COPD patients.
Author Summary
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a major life threatening disease of the lungs, characterized by airflow limitation and chronic inflammation. Progressive reduction of the body muscle mass is a condition linked to COPD that significantly decreases quality of life and survival. Physical exercise has been proposed as a therapeutic option but its utility is still a matter of debate. The mechanisms underlying muscle wasting are also still largely unknown. The results presented in this paper show that diseased muscles are largely unable to coordinate the expression of muscle remodelling and bioenergetics pathways and that the cause of this phenomena may be tissue hypoxia. These findings contrast with current hypotheses based on the role of chronic inflammation and show that a mechanism based on an oxygen driven, epigenetic control of these two important functions may be an important disease mechanism.
PMCID: PMC3164707  PMID: 21909251
18.  Novel Phenazine 5,10-Dioxides Release •OH in Simulated Hypoxia and Induce Reduction of Tumour Volume In Vivo 
ISRN Pharmacology  2011;2011:314209.
Phenazine 5,10-dioxides (PDOs) are a new class of bioreductive cytotoxins, which could act towards tumours containing hypoxic regions. The PDOs selective-hypoxic bioreduction was probed in vitro; however, the mechanism of action has not been completely explained. Besides, PDOs in vivo antitumour activities have not been demonstrated hitherto. We study the mechanism of hypoxic/normoxic cytotoxicity of PDO representative members. Electron spin resonance is used to confirm •OH production, alkaline comet assay to determine genotoxicity, and gel electrophoresis and flow cytometry to analyze DNA fragmentation and cell cycle distribution. Chemically induced rat breast tumours are employed to evaluate in vivo activities. For the most selective cytotoxin, 7(8)-bromo-2-hydroxyphenazine 5,10-dioxide (PDO1), exclusive hypoxic •OH production is evidenced, while for the unselective ones, •OH is produced in both conditions (normoxia and simulated hypoxia). In normoxia (Caco-2 cells), PDO1 induces cell-cycle arrest and DNA fragmentation but does not significantly induce apoptosis neither at IC50 nor IC80. No difference in the comet-assay scores are observed in normoxia and simulated hypoxia being the unselective 2-amino-7(8)-bromophenazine 5,10-dioxide (PDO2) the most genotoxic. The in vivo efficacy with the absence of systemic toxicity of PDO1 and PDO2 is checked out. Results from this study highlight the potential of PDOs as new therapeutics for cancer.
PMCID: PMC3196961  PMID: 22084710
19.  The natural triterpene maslinic acid induces apoptosis in HT29 colon cancer cells by a JNK-p53-dependent mechanism 
BMC Cancer  2011;11:154.
Maslinic acid, a pentacyclic triterpene found in the protective wax-like coating of the leaves and fruit of Olea europaea L., is a promising agent for the prevention of colon cancer. We have shown elsewhere that maslinic acid inhibits cell proliferation to a significant extent and activates mitochondrial apoptosis in colon cancer cells. In our latest work we have investigated further this compound's apoptotic molecular mechanism.
We used HT29 adenocarcinoma cells. Changes genotoxicity were analyzed by single-cell gel electrophoresis (comet assay). The cell cycle was determined by flow cytometry. Finally, changes in protein expression were examined by western blotting. Student's t-test was used for statistical comparison.
HT29 cells treated with maslinic acid showed significant increases in genotoxicity and cell-cycle arrest during the G0/G1 phase after 72 hours' treatment and an apoptotic sub-G0/G1 peak after 96 hours. Nevertheless, the molecular mechanism for this cytotoxic effect of maslinic acid has never been properly explored. We show here that the anti-tumoral activity of maslinic acid might proceed via p53-mediated apoptosis by acting upon the main signaling components that lead to an increase in p53 activity and the induction of the rest of the factors that participate in the apoptotic pathway. We found that in HT29 cells maslinic acid activated the expression of c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK), thus inducing p53. Treatment of tumor cells with maslinic acid also resulted in an increase in the expression of Bid and Bax, repression of Bcl-2, release of cytochrome-c and an increase in the expression of caspases -9, -3, and -7. Moreover, maslinic acid produced belated caspase-8 activity, thus amplifying the initial mitochondrial apoptotic signaling.
All these results suggest that maslinic acid induces apoptosis in human HT29 colon-cancer cells through the JNK-Bid-mediated mitochondrial apoptotic pathway via the activation of p53. Thus we propose a plausible sequential molecular mechanism for the expression of the different proteins responsible for the intrinsic mitochondrial apoptotic pathway. Further studies with other cell lines will be needed to confirm the general nature of these findings.
PMCID: PMC3103477  PMID: 21524306
colon-cancer cells; JNK; maslinic acid; mitochondrial apoptotic pathway; p53-mediated apoptosis; triterpenes
20.  Reactive Oxygen Species Production by Forward and Reverse Electron Fluxes in the Mitochondrial Respiratory Chain 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(3):e1001115.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced in the mitochondrial respiratory chain (RC) are primary signals that modulate cellular adaptation to environment, and are also destructive factors that damage cells under the conditions of hypoxia/reoxygenation relevant for various systemic diseases or transplantation. The important role of ROS in cell survival requires detailed investigation of mechanism and determinants of ROS production. To perform such an investigation we extended our rule-based model of complex III in order to account for electron transport in the whole RC coupled to proton translocation, transmembrane electrochemical potential generation, TCA cycle reactions, and substrate transport to mitochondria. It fits respiratory electron fluxes measured in rat brain mitochondria fueled by succinate or pyruvate and malate, and the dynamics of NAD+ reduction by reverse electron transport from succinate through complex I. The fitting of measured characteristics gave an insight into the mechanism of underlying processes governing the formation of free radicals that can transfer an unpaired electron to oxygen-producing superoxide and thus can initiate the generation of ROS. Our analysis revealed an association of ROS production with levels of specific radicals of individual electron transporters and their combinations in species of complexes I and III. It was found that the phenomenon of bistability, revealed previously as a property of complex III, remains valid for the whole RC. The conditions for switching to a state with a high content of free radicals in complex III were predicted based on theoretical analysis and were confirmed experimentally. These findings provide a new insight into the mechanisms of ROS production in RC.
Author Summary
Respiration at the level of mitochondria is considered as delivery of electrons and protons from NADH or succinate to oxygen through a set of transporters constituting the respiratory chain (RC). Mitochondrial respiration, dealing with transfer of unpaired electrons, may produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as O2− and subsequently H2O2 as side products. ROS are chemically very active and can cause oxidative damage to cellular components. The production of ROS, normally low, can increase under stress to the levels incompatible with cell survival; thus, understanding the ways of ROS production in the RC represents a vital task in research. We used mathematical modeling to analyze experiments with isolated brain mitochondria aimed to study relations between electron transport and ROS production. Elsewhere we reported that mitochondrial complex III can operate in two distinct steady states at the same microenvironmental conditions, producing either low or high levels of ROS. Here, this property of bistability was confirmed for the whole RC. The associations between measured ROS production and computed individual free radical levels in complexes I and III were established. The discovered phenomenon of bistability is important as a basis for new strategies in organ transplantation and therapy.
PMCID: PMC3068929  PMID: 21483483
21.  Knowledge management for systems biology a general and visually driven framework applied to translational medicine 
BMC Systems Biology  2011;5:38.
To enhance our understanding of complex biological systems like diseases we need to put all of the available data into context and use this to detect relations, pattern and rules which allow predictive hypotheses to be defined. Life science has become a data rich science with information about the behaviour of millions of entities like genes, chemical compounds, diseases, cell types and organs, which are organised in many different databases and/or spread throughout the literature. Existing knowledge such as genotype - phenotype relations or signal transduction pathways must be semantically integrated and dynamically organised into structured networks that are connected with clinical and experimental data. Different approaches to this challenge exist but so far none has proven entirely satisfactory.
To address this challenge we previously developed a generic knowledge management framework, BioXM™, which allows the dynamic, graphic generation of domain specific knowledge representation models based on specific objects and their relations supporting annotations and ontologies. Here we demonstrate the utility of BioXM for knowledge management in systems biology as part of the EU FP6 BioBridge project on translational approaches to chronic diseases. From clinical and experimental data, text-mining results and public databases we generate a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) knowledge base and demonstrate its use by mining specific molecular networks together with integrated clinical and experimental data.
We generate the first semantically integrated COPD specific public knowledge base and find that for the integration of clinical and experimental data with pre-existing knowledge the configuration based set-up enabled by BioXM reduced implementation time and effort for the knowledge base compared to similar systems implemented as classical software development projects. The knowledgebase enables the retrieval of sub-networks including protein-protein interaction, pathway, gene - disease and gene - compound data which are used for subsequent data analysis, modelling and simulation. Pre-structured queries and reports enhance usability; establishing their use in everyday clinical settings requires further simplification with a browser based interface which is currently under development.
PMCID: PMC3060864  PMID: 21375767
22.  Edelfosine-induced metabolic changes in cancer cells that precede the overproduction of reactive oxygen species and apoptosis 
BMC Systems Biology  2010;4:135.
Metabolic flux profiling based on the analysis of distribution of stable isotope tracer in metabolites is an important method widely used in cancer research to understand the regulation of cell metabolism and elaborate new therapeutic strategies. Recently, we developed software Isodyn, which extends the methodology of kinetic modeling to the analysis of isotopic isomer distribution for the evaluation of cellular metabolic flux profile under relevant conditions. This tool can be applied to reveal the metabolic effect of proapoptotic drug edelfosine in leukemia Jurkat cell line, uncovering the mechanisms of induction of apoptosis in cancer cells.
The study of 13C distribution of Jukat cells exposed to low edelfosine concentration, which induces apoptosis in ≤5% of cells, revealed metabolic changes previous to the development of apoptotic program. Specifically, it was found that low dose of edelfosine stimulates the TCA cycle. These metabolic perturbations were coupled with an increase of nucleic acid synthesis de novo, which indicates acceleration of biosynthetic and reparative processes. The further increase of the TCA cycle fluxes, when higher doses of drug applied, eventually enhance reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and trigger apoptotic program.
The application of Isodyn to the analysis of mechanism of edelfosine-induced apoptosis revealed primary drug-induced metabolic changes, which are important for the subsequent initiation of apoptotic program. Initiation of such metabolic changes could be exploited in anticancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC2984393  PMID: 20925932
24.  Histone deacetylase inhibition results in a common metabolic profile associated with HT29 differentiation 
Metabolomics  2010;6(2):229-237.
Cell differentiation is an orderly process that begins with modifications in gene expression. This process is regulated by the acetylation state of histones. Removal of the acetyl groups of histones by specific enzymes (histone deacetylases, HDAC) usually downregulates expression of genes that can cause cells to differentiate, and pharmacological inhibitors of these enzymes have been shown to induce differentiation in several colon cancer cell lines. Butyrate at high (mM) concentration is both a precursor for acetyl-CoA and a known HDAC inhibitor that induces cell differentiation in colon cells. The dual role of butyrate raises the question whether its effects on HT29 cell differentiation are due to butyrate metabolism or to its HDAC inhibitor activity. To distinguish between these two possibilities, we used a tracer-based metabolomics approach to compare the metabolic changes induced by two different types of HDAC inhibitors (butyrate and the non-metabolic agent trichostatin A) and those induced by other acetyl-CoA precursors that do not inhibit HDAC (caprylic and capric acids). [1,2-13C2]-d-glucose was used as a tracer and its redistribution among metabolic intermediates was measured to estimate the contribution of glycolysis, the pentose phosphate pathway and the Krebs cycle to the metabolic profile of HT29 cells under the different treatments. The results demonstrate that both HDAC inhibitors (trichostatin A and butyrate) induce a common metabolic profile that is associated with histone deacetylase inhibition and differentiation of HT29 cells whereas the metabolic effects of acetyl-CoA precursors are different from those of butyrate. The experimental findings support the concept of crosstalk between metabolic and cell signalling events, and provide an experimental approach for the rational design of new combined therapies that exploit the potential synergism between metabolic adaptation and cell differentiation processes through modification of HDAC activity.
PMCID: PMC2862949  PMID: 20445757
Butyrate; Cell differentiation; Histone deacetylase; Medium chain fatty acids; Metabolism; Trichostatin A
25.  Bistability of Mitochondrial Respiration Underlies Paradoxical Reactive Oxygen Species Generation Induced by Anoxia 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(12):e1000619.
Increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in mitochondria underlies major systemic diseases, and this clinical problem stimulates a great scientific interest in the mechanism of ROS generation. However, the mechanism of hypoxia-induced change in ROS production is not fully understood. To mathematically analyze this mechanism in details, taking into consideration all the possible redox states formed in the process of electron transport, even for respiratory complex III, a system of hundreds of differential equations must be constructed. Aimed to facilitate such tasks, we developed a new methodology of modeling, which resides in the automated construction of large sets of differential equations. The detailed modeling of electron transport in mitochondria allowed for the identification of two steady state modes of operation (bistability) of respiratory complex III at the same microenvironmental conditions. Various perturbations could induce the transition of respiratory chain from one steady state to another. While normally complex III is in a low ROS producing mode, temporal anoxia could switch it to a high ROS producing state, which persists after the return to normal oxygen supply. This prediction, which we qualitatively validated experimentally, explains the mechanism of anoxia-induced cell damage. Recognition of bistability of complex III operation may enable novel therapeutic strategies for oxidative stress and our method of modeling could be widely used in systems biology studies.
Author Summary
The levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that are generated as a side product of mitochondrial respiratory electron transport largely define the extent of oxidative stress in living cells. Free radicals formed in electron transport, such as ubisemiquinone, could pass their non-paired electron directly to oxygen, thus producing superoxide radical that gives rise to a variety of ROS. It is well known in clinical practice that upon recommencing oxygen supply after anoxia a tissue produces much more ROS than before the anoxia, and the state of high ROS production is stable. The mechanism of switching from low to high ROS production by temporal anoxia was unknown, in part because of the lack of detailed mathematical description of hundreds of redox states of respiratory complexes, which are formed in the process of electron transport. A new methodology of automated construction of large systems of differential equations allowed us to describe the system in detail and predicts that the mechanism of paradoxical effect of anoxia-reoxygenation could be defined by the properties of complex III of mitochondrial respiratory chain. Our experiments confirmed that the effect of hypoxia-reoxygenation is confined by intramitochondrial processes since it is observed in isolated mitochondria.
PMCID: PMC2789320  PMID: 20041200

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