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1.  A systems biology approach reveals a link between systemic cytokines and skeletal muscle energy metabolism in a rodent smoking model and human COPD 
Genome Medicine  2014;6(8):59.
A relatively large percentage of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) develop systemic co-morbidities that affect prognosis, among which muscle wasting is particularly debilitating. Despite significant research effort, the pathophysiology of this important extrapulmonary manifestation is still unclear. A key question that remains unanswered is to what extent systemic inflammatory mediators might play a role in this pathology.
Cigarette smoke (CS) is the main risk factor for developing COPD and therefore animal models chronically exposed to CS have been proposed for mechanistic studies and biomarker discovery. Although mice have been successfully used as a pre-clinical in vivo model to study the pulmonary effects of acute and chronic CS exposure, data suggest that they may be inadequate models for studying the effects of CS on peripheral muscle function. In contrast, recent findings indicate that the guinea pig model (Cavia porcellus) may better mimic muscle wasting.
We have used a systems biology approach to compare the transcriptional profile of hindlimb skeletal muscles from a Guinea pig rodent model exposed to CS and/or chronic hypoxia to COPD patients with muscle wasting.
We show that guinea pigs exposed to long-term CS accurately reflect most of the transcriptional changes observed in dysfunctional limb muscle of severe COPD patients when compared to matched controls. Using network inference, we could then show that the expression profile in whole lung of genes encoding for soluble inflammatory mediators is informative of the molecular state of skeletal muscles in the guinea pig smoking model. Finally, we show that CXCL10 and CXCL9, two of the candidate systemic cytokines identified using this pre-clinical model, are indeed detected at significantly higher levels in serum of COPD patients, and that their serum protein level is inversely correlated with the expression of aerobic energy metabolism genes in skeletal muscle.
We conclude that CXCL10 and CXCL9 are promising candidate inflammatory signals linked to the regulation of central metabolism genes in skeletal muscles. On a methodological level, our work also shows that a system level analysis of animal models of diseases can be very effective to generate clinically relevant hypothesis.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13073-014-0059-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4165371  PMID: 25228925
2.  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
3.  Characterization of mutations in the PAS domain of the EvgS sensor kinase selected by laboratory evolution for acid resistance in Escherichia coli 
Molecular Microbiology  2014;93(5):911-927.
Laboratory-based evolution and whole-genome sequencing can link genotype and phenotype. We used evolution of acid resistance in exponential phase Escherichia coli to study resistance to a lethal stress. Iterative selection at pH 2.5 generated five populations that were resistant to low pH in early exponential phase. Genome sequencing revealed multiple mutations, but the only gene mutated in all strains was evgS, part of a two-component system that has already been implicated in acid resistance. All these mutations were in the cytoplasmic PAS domain of EvgS, and were shown to be solely responsible for the resistant phenotype, causing strong upregulation at neutral pH of genes normally induced by low pH. Resistance to pH 2.5 in these strains did not require the transporter GadC, or the sigma factor RpoS. We found that EvgS-dependent constitutive acid resistance to pH 2.5 was retained in the absence of the regulators GadE or YdeO, but was lost if the oxidoreductase YdeP was also absent. A deletion in the periplasmic domain of EvgS abolished the response to low pH, but not the activity of the constitutive mutants. On the basis of these results we propose a model for how EvgS may become activated by low pH.
PMCID: PMC4283999  PMID: 24995530

Results 1-3 (3)