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1.  Models in biology: lessons from modeling regulation of the eukaryotic cell cycle 
BMC Biology  2015;13:46.
In this essay we illustrate some general principles of mathematical modeling in biology by our experiences in studying the molecular regulatory network underlying eukaryotic cell division. We discuss how and why the models moved from simple, parsimonious cartoons to more complex, detailed mechanisms with many kinetic parameters. We describe how the mature models made surprising and informative predictions about the control system that were later confirmed experimentally. Along the way, we comment on the ‘parameter estimation problem’ and conclude with an appeal for a greater role for mathematical models in molecular cell biology.
PMCID: PMC4486427  PMID: 26129844
Mathematical models; Mitosis-promoting factor; Cell cycle checkpoints; Regulated kinases; Regulated phosphatases; Regulated proteolysis
2.  Systems biology from virus to humans 
Natural infection and then recovery are considered to be the most effective means for hosts to build protective immunity. Thus, mimicking natural infection of pathogens, many live attenuated vaccines such as influenza virus, and yellow fever vaccine 17D were developed and have been successfully used to induce protective immunity. However, humans fail to generate long-term protective immunity to some pathogens after natural infection such as influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) even if they survive initial infections. Many vaccines are suboptimal since much mortality is still occurring, which is exampled by influenza and tuberculosis. It is critically important to increase our understanding on protein components of pathogens and vaccines as well as cellular and host responses to infections and vaccinations. Here, we highlight recent advances in gene transcripts and protein analysis results in the systems biology to enhance our understanding of viral pathogens, vaccines, and host cell responses.
PMCID: PMC4527316  PMID: 26269748
3.  Mitochondria as signaling organelles 
BMC Biology  2014;12:34.
Almost 20 years ago, the discovery that mitochondrial release of cytochrome c initiates a cascade that leads to cell death brought about a wholesale change in how cell biologists think of mitochondria. Formerly viewed as sites of biosynthesis and bioenergy production, these double membrane organelles could now be thought of as regulators of signal transduction. Within a few years, multiple other mitochondria-centric signaling mechanisms have been proposed, including release of reactive oxygen species and the scaffolding of signaling complexes on the outer mitochondrial membrane. It has also been shown that mitochondrial dysfunction causes induction of stress responses, bolstering the idea that mitochondria communicate their fitness to the rest of the cell. In the past decade, multiple new modes of mitochondrial signaling have been discovered. These include the release of metabolites, mitochondrial motility and dynamics, and interaction with other organelles such as endoplasmic reticulum in regulating signaling. Collectively these studies have established that mitochondria-dependent signaling has diverse physiological and pathophysiological outcomes. This review is a brief account of recent work in mitochondria-dependent signaling in the historical framework of the early studies.
PMCID: PMC4035690  PMID: 24884669
4.  Shaping the dynamic mitochondrial network 
BMC Biology  2014;12:35.
In a majority of cell types, mitochondria form highly dynamic, tubular networks. Maintaining the shape of this complex network is critical for both mitochondrial and cellular function and involves the activities of mitochondrial division, fusion, motility, and tethering. Recent studies have advanced our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying these conserved activities and their integration with cellular needs.
PMCID: PMC4035697  PMID: 24884775
5.  Models in biology: ‘accurate descriptions of our pathetic thinking’ 
BMC Biology  2014;12:29.
In this essay I will sketch some ideas for how to think about models in biology. I will begin by trying to dispel the myth that quantitative modeling is somehow foreign to biology. I will then point out the distinction between forward and reverse modeling and focus thereafter on the former. Instead of going into mathematical technicalities about different varieties of models, I will focus on their logical structure, in terms of assumptions and conclusions. A model is a logical machine for deducing the latter from the former. If the model is correct, then, if you believe its assumptions, you must, as a matter of logic, also believe its conclusions. This leads to consideration of the assumptions underlying models. If these are based on fundamental physical laws, then it may be reasonable to treat the model as ‘predictive’, in the sense that it is not subject to falsification and we can rely on its conclusions. However, at the molecular level, models are more often derived from phenomenology and guesswork. In this case, the model is a test of its assumptions and must be falsifiable. I will discuss three models from this perspective, each of which yields biological insights, and this will lead to some guidelines for prospective model builders.
PMCID: PMC4005397  PMID: 24886484
Mathematical model; Predictive model; Fundamental physical laws; Phenomenology; Membrane-bounded compartment; T-cell receptor; Somitogenesis clock
6.  Modeling the within-host dynamics of HIV infection 
BMC Biology  2013;11:96.
The new field of viral dynamics, based on within-host modeling of viral infections, began with models of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), but now includes many viral infections. Here we review developments in HIV modeling, emphasizing quantitative findings about HIV biology uncovered by studying acute infection, the response to drug therapy and the rate of generation of HIV variants that escape immune responses. We show how modeling has revealed many dynamical features of HIV infection and how it may provide insight into the ultimate cure for this infection.
PMCID: PMC3765939  PMID: 24020860
7.  Macromolecular juggling by ubiquitylation enzymes 
BMC Biology  2013;11:65.
The posttranslational modification of target proteins with ubiquitin and ubiquitin-like proteins is accomplished by the sequential action of E1, E2, and E3 enzymes. Members of the E1 and E3 enzyme families can undergo particularly large conformational changes during their catalytic cycles, involving the remodeling of domain interfaces. This enables the efficient, directed and regulated handover of ubiquitin from one carrier to the next one. We review some of these conformational transformations, as revealed by crystallographic studies.
PMCID: PMC3748819  PMID: 23800009
8.  Gene regulation by the act of long non-coding RNA transcription 
BMC Biology  2013;11:59.
Long non-protein-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are proposed to be the largest transcript class in the mouse and human transcriptomes. Two important questions are whether all lncRNAs are functional and how they could exert a function. Several lncRNAs have been shown to function through their product, but this is not the only possible mode of action. In this review we focus on a role for the process of lncRNA transcription, independent of the lncRNA product, in regulating protein-coding-gene activity in cis. We discuss examples where lncRNA transcription leads to gene silencing or activation, and describe strategies to determine if the lncRNA product or its transcription causes the regulatory effect.
PMCID: PMC3668284  PMID: 23721193
Gene expression regulation; Histone modifications; lincRNA; lncRNA; Silencing; Transcriptional interference
9.  LKB1 and AMPK and the cancer-metabolism link - ten years after 
BMC Biology  2013;11:36.
The identification of a complex containing the tumor suppressor LKB1 as the critical upstream kinase required for the activation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) by metabolic stress was reported in an article in Journal of Biology in 2003. This finding represented the first clear link between AMPK and cancer. Here we briefly discuss how this discovery came about, and describe some of the insights, especially into the role of AMPK in cancer, that have followed from it.
In September 2003, our groups published a joint paper [1] in Journal of Biology (now BMC Biology) that identified the long-sought and elusive upstream kinase acting on AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) as a complex containing LKB1, a known tumor suppressor. Similar findings were reported at about the same time by David Carling and Marian Carlson [2] and by Reuben Shaw and Lew Cantley [3]; at the time of writing these three papers have received between them a total of over 2,000 citations. These findings provided a direct link between a protein kinase, AMPK, which at the time was mainly associated with regulation of metabolism, and another protein kinase, LKB1, which was known from genetic studies to be a tumor suppressor. While the idea that cancer is in part a metabolic disorder (first suggested by Warburg in the 1920s [4]) is well recognized today [5], this was not the case in 2003, and our paper perhaps contributed towards its renaissance. The aim of this short review is to recall how we made the original finding, and to discuss some of the directions that these findings have taken the field in the ensuing ten years.
PMCID: PMC3626889  PMID: 23587167
10.  Drugging Hedgehog: signaling the pathway to translation 
BMC Biology  2013;11:37.
First discovered in Drosophila, the Hedgehog signaling pathway controls a wide range of developmental processes and is implicated in a variety of cancers. The success of a screen for chemical modulators of this pathway, published in 2002, opened a new chapter in the quest to translate the results of basic developmental biology research into therapeutic applications. Small molecule pathway agonists are now used to program stem cells, whilst antagonists are proving effective as anti-cancer therapies.
PMCID: PMC3626896  PMID: 23587183
11.  The pupylation pathway and its role in mycobacteria 
BMC Biology  2012;10:95.
Pupylation is a post-translational protein modification occurring in actinobacteria through which the small, intrinsically disordered protein Pup (prokaryotic ubiquitin-like protein) is conjugated to lysine residues of proteins, marking them for proteasomal degradation. Although functionally related to ubiquitination, pupylation is carried out by different enzymes that are evolutionarily linked to bacterial carboxylate-amine ligases. Here, we compare the mechanism of Pup-conjugation to target proteins with ubiquitination, describe the evolutionary emergence of pupylation and discuss the importance of this pathway for survival of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in the host.
PMCID: PMC3511204  PMID: 23198822
12.  Clamp loader ATPases and the evolution of DNA replication machinery 
BMC Biology  2012;10:34.
Clamp loaders are pentameric ATPases of the AAA+ family that operate to ensure processive DNA replication. They do so by loading onto DNA the ring-shaped sliding clamps that tether the polymerase to the DNA. Structural and biochemical analysis of clamp loaders has shown how, despite differences in composition across different branches of life, all clamp loaders undergo the same concerted conformational transformations, which generate a binding surface for the open clamp and an internal spiral chamber into which the DNA at the replication fork can slide, triggering ATP hydrolysis, release of the clamp loader, and closure of the clamp round the DNA. We review here the current understanding of the clamp loader mechanism and discuss the implications of the differences between clamp loaders from the different branches of life.
PMCID: PMC3331839  PMID: 22520345
13.  Following Ariadne's thread: a new perspective on RBR ubiquitin ligases 
BMC Biology  2012;10:24.
Ubiquitin signaling pathways rely on E3 ligases for effecting the final transfer of ubiquitin from E2 ubiquitin conjugating enzymes to a protein target. Here we re-evaluate the hybrid RING/HECT mechanism used by the E3 family RING-between-RINGs (RBRs) to transfer ubiquitin to substrates. We place RBRs into the context of current knowledge of HECT and RING E3s. Although not as abundant as the other types of E3s (there are only slightly more than a dozen RBR E3s in the human genome), RBRs are conserved in all eukaryotes and play important roles in biology. Re-evaluation of RBR ligases as RING/HECT E3s provokes new questions and challenges the field.
PMCID: PMC3305615  PMID: 22420831
14.  Generation and physiological roles of linear ubiquitin chains 
BMC Biology  2012;10:23.
Ubiquitination now ranks with phosphorylation as one of the best-studied post-translational modifications of proteins with broad regulatory roles across all of biology. Ubiquitination usually involves the addition of ubiquitin chains to target protein molecules, and these may be of eight different types, seven of which involve the linkage of one of the seven internal lysine (K) residues in one ubiquitin molecule to the carboxy-terminal diglycine of the next. In the eighth, the so-called linear ubiquitin chains, the linkage is between the amino-terminal amino group of methionine on a ubiquitin that is conjugated with a target protein and the carboxy-terminal carboxy group of the incoming ubiquitin. Physiological roles are well established for K48-linked chains, which are essential for signaling proteasomal degradation of proteins, and for K63-linked chains, which play a part in recruitment of DNA repair enzymes, cell signaling and endocytosis. We focus here on linear ubiquitin chains, how they are assembled, and how three different avenues of research have indicated physiological roles for linear ubiquitination in innate and adaptive immunity and suppression of inflammation.
PMCID: PMC3305636  PMID: 22420778
15.  Signaling-mediated control of ubiquitin ligases in endocytosis 
BMC Biology  2012;10:25.
Ubiquitin-dependent regulation of endocytosis plays an important part in the control of signal transduction, and a critical issue in the understanding of signal transduction therefore relates to regulation of ubiquitination in the endocytic pathway. We discuss here what is known of the mechanisms by which signaling controls the activity of the ubiquitin ligases that specifically recognize the targets of ubiquitination on the endocytic pathway, and suggest alternative mechanisms that deserve experimental investigation.
PMCID: PMC3305638  PMID: 22420864
16.  Putting the pH into phosphatidic acid signaling 
BMC Biology  2011;9:85.
The lipid phosphatidic acid (PA) has important roles in cell signaling and metabolic regulation in all organisms. New evidence indicates that PA also has an unprecedented role as a pH biosensor, coupling changes in pH to intracellular signaling pathways. pH sensing is a property of the phosphomonoester headgroup of PA. A number of other potent signaling lipids also contain headgroups with phosphomonoesters, implying that pH sensing by lipids may be widespread in biology.
PMCID: PMC3229452  PMID: 22136116
17.  Following the genes: a framework for animal modeling of psychiatric disorders 
BMC Biology  2011;9:76.
The number of individual cases of psychiatric disorders that can be ascribed to identified, rare, single mutations is increasing with great rapidity. Such mutations can be recapitulated in mice to generate animal models with direct etiological validity. Defining the underlying pathogenic mechanisms will require an experimental and theoretical framework to make the links from mutation to altered behavior in an animal or psychopathology in a human. Here, we discuss key elements of such a framework, including cell type-based phenotyping, developmental trajectories, linking circuit properties at micro and macro scales and definition of neurobiological phenotypes that are directly translatable to humans.
PMCID: PMC3214139  PMID: 22078115
autism; schizophrenia; rare mutations; synaptic; interneurons; EEG; functional connectivity; microcircuits; Cre; allelic heterogeneity
18.  Molecular dynamics simulations and drug discovery 
BMC Biology  2011;9:71.
This review discusses the many roles atomistic computer simulations of macromolecular (for example, protein) receptors and their associated small-molecule ligands can play in drug discovery, including the identification of cryptic or allosteric binding sites, the enhancement of traditional virtual-screening methodologies, and the direct prediction of small-molecule binding energies. The limitations of current simulation methodologies, including the high computational costs and approximations of molecular forces required, are also discussed. With constant improvements in both computer power and algorithm design, the future of computer-aided drug design is promising; molecular dynamics simulations are likely to play an increasingly important role.
PMCID: PMC3203851  PMID: 22035460
molecular dynamics simulations; computer-aided drug discovery; cryptic binding sites; allosteric binding sites; virtual screening, free-energy prediction
19.  Stem cell biology and drug discovery 
BMC Biology  2011;9:42.
There are many reasons to be interested in stem cells, one of the most prominent being their potential use in finding better drugs to treat human disease. This article focuses on how this may be implemented. Recent advances in the production of reprogrammed adult cells and their regulated differentiation to disease-relevant cells are presented, and diseases that have been modeled using these methods are discussed. Remaining difficulties are highlighted, as are new therapeutic insights that have emerged.
PMCID: PMC3110139  PMID: 21649940
20.  Microarrays, deep sequencing and the true measure of the transcriptome 
BMC Biology  2011;9:34.
Microarrays first made the analysis of the transcriptome possible, and have produced much important information. Today, however, researchers are increasingly turning to direct high-throughput sequencing - RNA-Seq - which has considerable advantages for examining transcriptome fine structure - for example in the detection of allele-specific expression and splice junctions. In this article, we discuss the relative merits of the two techniques, the inherent biases in each, and whether all of the vast body of array work needs to be revisited using the newer technology. We conclude that microarrays remain useful and accurate tools for measuring expression levels, and RNA-Seq complements and extends microarray measurements.
PMCID: PMC3104486  PMID: 21627854
21.  Learning to live together: mutualism between self-splicing introns and their hosts 
BMC Biology  2011;9:22.
Group I and II introns can be considered as molecular parasites that interrupt protein-coding and structural RNA genes in all domains of life. They function as self-splicing ribozymes and thereby limit the phenotypic costs associated with disruption of a host gene while they act as mobile DNA elements to promote their spread within and between genomes. Once considered purely selfish DNA elements, they now seem, in the light of recent work on the molecular mechanisms regulating bacterial and phage group I and II intron dynamics, to show evidence of co-evolution with their hosts. These previously underappreciated relationships serve the co-evolving entities particularly well in times of environmental stress.
PMCID: PMC3073962  PMID: 21481283
22.  Focusing on optic tectum circuitry through the lens of genetics 
BMC Biology  2010;8:126.
The visual pathway is tasked with processing incoming signals from the retina and converting this information into adaptive behavior. Recent studies of the larval zebrafish tectum have begun to clarify how the 'micro-circuitry' of this highly organized midbrain structure filters visual input, which arrives in the superficial layers and directs motor output through efferent projections from its deep layers. The new emphasis has been on the specific function of neuronal cell types, which can now be reproducibly labeled, imaged and manipulated using genetic and optical techniques. Here, we discuss recent advances and emerging experimental approaches for studying tectal circuits as models for visual processing and sensorimotor transformation by the vertebrate brain.
PMCID: PMC2949621  PMID: 20920150
23.  Assessing the human immune system through blood transcriptomics 
BMC Biology  2010;8:84.
Blood is the pipeline of the immune system. Assessing changes in transcript abundance in blood on a genome-wide scale affords a comprehensive view of the status of the immune system in health and disease. This review summarizes the work that has used this approach to identify therapeutic targets and biomarker signatures in the field of autoimmunity and infectious disease. Recent technological and methodological advances that will carry the blood transcriptome research field forward are also discussed.
PMCID: PMC2895587  PMID: 20619006
24.  Immune mechanisms of protection: can adjuvants rise to the challenge? 
BMC Biology  2010;8:37.
For many diseases vaccines are lacking or only partly effective. Research on protective immunity and adjuvants that generate vigorous immune responses may help generate effective vaccines against such pathogens.
PMCID: PMC2864095  PMID: 20385031
25.  Biology-driven cancer drug development: back to the future 
BMC Biology  2010;8:38.
Most of the significant recent advances in cancer treatment have been based on the great strides that have been made in our understanding of the underlying biology of the disease. Nevertheless, the exploitation of biological insight in the oncology clinic has been haphazard and we believe that this needs to be enhanced and optimized if patients are to receive maximum benefit. Here, we discuss how research has driven cancer drug development in the past and describe how recent advances in biology, technology, our conceptual understanding of cell networks and removal of some roadblocks may facilitate therapeutic advances in the (hopefully) near future.
PMCID: PMC2864096  PMID: 20385032

Results 1-25 (25)