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1.  Upregulation of CRABP1 in human neuroblastoma cells overproducing the Alzheimer-typical Aβ42 reduces their differentiation potential 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:38.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by neurodegeneration and changes in cellular processes, including neurogenesis. Proteolytic processing of the amyloid precursor protein (APP) plays a central role in AD. Owing to varying APP processing, several β-amyloid peptides (Aβ) are generated. In contrast to the form with 40 amino acids (Aβ40), the variant with 42 amino acids (Aβ42) is thought to be the pathogenic form triggering the pathological cascade in AD. While total-Aβ effects have been studied extensively, little is known about specific genome-wide effects triggered by Aβ42 or Aβ40 derived from their direct precursor C99.
A combined transcriptomics/proteomics analysis was performed to measure the effects of intracellularly generated Aβ peptides in human neuroblastoma cells. Data was validated by real-time polymerase chain reaction (real-time PCR) and a functional validation was carried out using RNA interference.
Here we studied the transcriptomic and proteomic responses to increased or decreased Aβ42 and Aβ40 levels generated in human neuroblastoma cells. Genome-wide expression profiles (Affymetrix) and proteomic approaches were combined to analyze the cellular response to the changed Aβ42- and Aβ40-levels. The cells responded to this challenge with significant changes in their expression pattern. We identified several dysregulated genes and proteins, but only the cellular retinoic acid binding protein 1 (CRABP1) was up-regulated exclusively in cells expressing an increased Aβ42/Aβ40 ratio. This consequently reduced all-trans retinoic acid (RA)-induced differentiation, validated by CRABP1 knock down, which led to recovery of the cellular response to RA treatment and cellular sprouting under physiological RA concentrations. Importantly, this effect was specific to the AD typical increase in the Aβ42/Aβ40 ratio, whereas a decreased ratio did not result in up-regulation of CRABP1.
We conclude that increasing the Aβ42/Aβ40 ratio up-regulates CRABP1, which in turn reduces the differentiation potential of the human neuroblastoma cell line SH-SY5Y, but increases cell proliferation. This work might contribute to the better understanding of AD neurogenesis, currently a controversial topic.
PMCID: PMC2645429  PMID: 19087254
2.  A controlled trial of the effectiveness of internet continuing medical education 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:37.
The internet has had a strong impact on how physicians access information and on the development of continuing medical education activities. Evaluation of the effectiveness of these activities has lagged behind their development.
To determine the effectiveness of a group of 48 internet continuing medical education (CME) activities, case vignette surveys were administered to US physicians immediately following participation, and to a representative control group of non-participant physicians. Responses to case vignettes were analyzed based on evidence presented in the content of CME activities. An effect size for each activity was calculated using Cohen's d to determine the amount of difference between the two groups in the likelihood of making evidence-based clinical decisions, expressed as the percentage of non-overlap, between the two groups. Two formats were compared.
In a sample of 5621 US physicians, of the more than 100,000 physicians who participated in 48 internet CME activities, the average effect size was 0.75, an increased likelihood of 45% that participants were making choices in response to clinical case vignettes based on clinical evidence. This likelihood was higher in interactive case-based activities, 51% (effect size 0.89), than for text-based clinical updates, 40% (effect size 0.63). Effectiveness was also higher among primary care physicians than specialists.
Physicians who participated in selected internet CME activities were more likely to make evidence-based clinical choices than non-participants in response to clinical case vignettes. Internet CME activities show promise in offering a searchable, credible, available on-demand, high-impact source of CME for physicians.
PMCID: PMC2612689  PMID: 19055789
3.  The cost-effectiveness of increasing alcohol taxes: a modelling study 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:36.
Excessive alcohol use increases risks of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease and several types of cancer, with associated losses of quality of life and life-years. Alcohol taxes can be considered as a public health instrument as they are known to be able to decrease alcohol consumption. In this paper, we estimate the cost-effectiveness of an alcohol tax increase for the entire Dutch population from a health-care perspective focusing on health benefits and health-care costs in alcohol users.
The chronic disease model of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment was used to extrapolate from decreased alcohol consumption due to tax increases to effects on health-care costs, life-years gained and quality-adjusted life-years gained, A Dutch scenario in which tax increases for beer are planned, and a Swedish scenario representing one of the highest alcohol taxes in Europe, were compared with current practice in the Netherlands. To estimate cost-effectiveness ratios, yearly differences in model outcomes between intervention and current practice scenarios were discounted and added over the time horizon of 100 years to find net present values for incremental life-years gained, quality-adjusted life-years gained, and health-care costs.
In the Swedish scenario, many more quality-adjusted life-years were gained than in the Dutch scenario, but both scenarios had almost equal incremental cost-effectiveness ratios: €5100 per quality-adjusted life-year and €5300 per quality-adjusted life-year, respectively.
Focusing on health-care costs and health consequences for drinkers, an alcohol tax increase is a cost-effective policy instrument.
PMCID: PMC2637894  PMID: 19040717
4.  Herbal remedy clinical trials in the media: a comparison with the coverage of conventional pharmaceuticals 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:35.
This study systematically compares newspaper coverage of clinical trials for herbal remedies, a popular type of complementary and alternative medicine, with clinical trials for pharmaceuticals using a comparative content analysis. This is a timely inquiry given the recognized importance of the popular press as a source of health information, the complex and significant role of complementary and alternative medicine in individual health-care decisions, and the trend toward evidence-based research for some complementary and alternative medical therapies. We searched PubMed for clinical trials, Lexis/Nexis for newspaper articles in the UK, US, Australia/New Zealand, and Factiva for Canadian newspaper articles from 1995 to 2005. We used a coding frame to analyze and compare 48 pharmaceutical and 57 herbal remedy clinical trials as well as 201 pharmaceutical and 352 herbal remedy newspaper articles.
Herbal remedy clinical trials had similar Jadad scores to pharmaceutical trials but were significantly smaller and of shorter duration. The trials were mostly studies from Western countries and published in high-ranking journals. The majority of pharmaceutical (64%) and herbal remedy (53%) clinical trials had private sector funding involvement. A minority declared further author conflicts of interest. Newspaper coverage of herbal remedy clinical trials was more negative than for pharmaceutical trials; a result only partly explained by the greater proportion of herbal remedy clinical trials reporting negative results (P = 0.0201; χ2 = 7.8129; degrees of freedom = 2). Errors of omission were common in newspaper coverage, with little reporting of dose, sample size, location, and duration of the trial, methods, trial funding, and conflicts of interest. There was an under-reporting of risks, especially for herbal remedies.
Our finding of negative coverage of herbal remedy trials is contrary to the positive trends in most published research based primarily on anecdotal accounts. Our results highlight how media coverage is not providing the public with the information necessary to make informed decisions about medical treatments. Most concerning is the lack of disclosure of trial funding and conflicts of interest that could influence the outcome or reporting of trial results. This lack of reporting may impact the medical research community, which has the most to lose by way of public trust and respect.
PMCID: PMC2647939  PMID: 19036123
5.  Valvular regurgitation and surgery associated with fenfluramine use: an analysis of 5743 individuals 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:34.
Use of fenfluramines for weight loss has been associated with the development of characteristic plaques on cardiac valves causing regurgitation. However, previously published studies of exposure to fenfluramines have been limited by relatively small sample size, short duration of follow-up, and the lack of any estimate of the frequency of subsequent valvular surgery. We performed an observational study of 5743 users of fenfluramines examined by echocardiography between July 1997 and February 2004 in a single large cardiology clinic.
The prevalence of at least mild aortic regurgitation (AR) or moderate mitral regurgitation (MR) was 19.6% in women and 11.8% in men (p < 0.0001 for gender difference). Duration of use was strongly predictive of mild or greater AR (p < 0.0001 for trend), MR (p = 0.002), and tricuspid regurgitation (TR) (p < 0.0001), as was earlier scan date (p < 0.0001 for those scanned prior to 1 January 2000 versus later). Increasing age was also independently associated with increased risk of AR and MR (both p < 0.0001). With mean follow-up of 30.3 months, AR worsened in 15.2%, remained the same in 63.1%, and improved in 21.7%. Corresponding values for MR were 24.8%, 47.4% and 27.9%. Pulmonary hypertension was strongly associated with MR but not AR. Valve surgery was performed on 38 patients (0.66% of 5743), 25 (0.44%) with clear evidence of fenfluramine-related etiology.
Regurgitant valvulopathy was common in individuals exposed to fenfluramines, more frequent in females, and associated with duration of use in all valves assessed. Valve surgery was performed as frequently for aortic as mitral valves and some tricuspid valve surgeries were also performed. The incidence of surgery appeared to be substantially increased compared with limited general population data.
PMCID: PMC2585088  PMID: 18990200
6.  LRRK2 in Parkinson's disease – drawing the curtain of penetrance: a commentary 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:33.
Parkinson's disease is the most common neurodegenerative movement disorder and affects about 2% of the population over the age of 60 years. In 2004, mutations in the LRRK2 gene were first described and turned out to be the most frequent genetic cause of familial and sporadic Parkinson's disease and may account for up to 40% of patients in distinct populations. Based on these findings, Latourelle and colleagues show that the penetrance of the most common LRRK2 mutation is higher in patients with familial compared with sporadic Parkinson's disease and identified a substantial number of affected relatives of mutation carriers not presenting with a LRRK2 mutation themselves. This commentary discusses the role of genetic and/or environmental susceptibility factors modulating the expressivity of the disease trait, how these factors may contribute to the phenomenon of phenocopies in genetically defined Parkinson's disease pedigrees, and how the findings of Latourelle and colleagues, published this month in BMC Medicine, relate to current concepts of genetic counselling.
PMCID: PMC2607298  PMID: 18986509
7.  The Gly2019Ser mutation in LRRK2 is not fully penetrant in familial Parkinson's disease: the GenePD study 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:32.
We report age-dependent penetrance estimates for leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2)-related Parkinson's disease (PD) in a large sample of familial PD. The most frequently seen LRRK2 mutation, Gly2019Ser (G2019S), is associated with approximately 5 to 6% of familial PD cases and 1 to 2% of idiopathic cases, making it the most common known genetic cause of PD. Studies of the penetrance of LRRK2 mutations have produced a wide range of estimates, possibly due to differences in study design and recruitment, including in particular differences between samples of familial PD versus sporadic PD.
A sample, including 903 affected and 58 unaffected members from 509 families ascertained for having two or more PD-affected members, 126 randomly ascertained PD patients and 197 controls, was screened for five different LRRK2 mutations. Penetrance was estimated in families of LRRK2 carriers with consideration of the inherent bias towards increased penetrance in a familial sample.
Thirty-one out of 509 families with multiple cases of PD (6.1%) were found to have 58 LRRK2 mutation carriers (6.4%). Twenty-nine of the 31 families had G2019S mutations while two had R1441C mutations. No mutations were identified among controls or unaffected relatives of PD cases. Nine PD-affected relatives of G2019S carriers did not carry the LRRK2 mutation themselves. At the maximum observed age range of 90 to 94 years, the unbiased estimated penetrance was 67% for G2019S families, compared with a baseline PD risk of 17% seen in the non-LRRK2-related PD families.
Lifetime penetrance of LRRK2 estimated in the unascertained relatives of multiplex PD families is greater than that reported in studies of sporadically ascertained LRRK2 cases, suggesting that inherited susceptibility factors may modify the penetrance of LRRK2 mutations. In addition, the presence of nine PD phenocopies in the LRRK2 families suggests that these susceptibility factors may also increase the risk of non-LRRK2-related PD. No differences in penetrance were found between men and women, suggesting that the factors that influence penetrance for LRRK2 carriers are independent of the factors which increase PD prevalence in men.
PMCID: PMC2596771  PMID: 18986508
8.  25 years of HIV-1 research – progress and perspectives 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:31.
Twenty-five years after the discovery and isolation of the human immunodeficiency virus by French and American scientists, much progress has been made in basic research, clinical treatment, and public health prevention measures for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Here, we summarize, in brief, advances that have been achieved and provide some perspectives on future challenges.
PMCID: PMC2585089  PMID: 18976462
9.  Lack of association of two common polymorphisms on 9p21 with risk of coronary heart disease and myocardial infarction; results from a prospective cohort study 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:30.
Recent genome wide association (GWA) studies identified two Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP) (rs10757278 and rs10757274) in the region of the CDK2NA and CDK2NB genes to be consistently associated with the risks of coronary heart disease (CHD) and myocardial infarction (MI). We examined the SNPs in relation to the risk of CHD and MI in a large population based study of elderly population.
The Rotterdam Study is a population-based, prospective cohort study among 7983 participants aged 55 years and older. Associations of the polymorphisms with CHD and MI were assessed by use of Cox proportional hazards analyses.
In an additive model, the age and sex adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) (95% confidence interval) for CHD and MI were 1.03 (0.90, 1.18) and 0.94 (0.82, 1.08) per copy of the G allele of rs10757274. The corresponding HRs were 1.03 (0.90, 1.18) and 0.93 (0.81, 1.06) for the G allele of rs10757278. The association of the SNPs with CHD and MI was not significant in any of the subgroups of CHD risk factors.
we were not able to show an association of the studied SNPs with risks of CHD and MI. This may be due to differences in genes involved in the occurrence of CHD in young and older people.
PMCID: PMC2579294  PMID: 18925945
10.  Where is the supporting evidence for treating mild to moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations with antibiotics? A systematic review 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:28.
Randomised trials comparing different drugs head-to-head are extremely valuable for clinical decision-making. However, it is scientifically and ethically sensible to demand strong evidence that a drug is effective by showing superiority over a placebo before embarking on head-to-head comparisons of potentially ineffective drugs. Our aim was to study the evolvement of evidence from placebo-controlled and head-to-head trials on the effects of antibiotics for the treatment of mild to moderate exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
We conducted a historical systematic review. Through electronic databases and hand-searches, we identified placebo-controlled and head-to-head antibiotic trials for the treatment of mild to moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations. We compared the numbers of patients recruited in placebo-controlled and head-to-head trials between 1957 and 2005. Using cumulative meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials, we determined when, if ever, placebo-controlled trials had shown convincing evidence that antibiotics are effective in preventing treatment failure in patients with mild to moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations.
The first head-to-head trial was published in 1963. It was followed by another 100 trials comparing different antibiotics in a total of 34,029 patients with mild to moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations. Over time, the cumulative odds ratio in placebo-controlled trials remained inconclusive throughout with odds ratios ranging from 0.39 (95% confidence intervals 0.04–4.22) to the most recent estimate (1995) of 0.81 (95% confidence intervals 0.52–1.28, P = 0.37).
Placebo-controlled trials do not support the use of antibiotics in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients with mild to moderate exacerbations. Conducting head-to-head trials is, therefore, scientifically and ethically questionable. This underscores the requirement to perform or study systematic reviews of placebo-controlled trials before conducting head-to-head trials.
PMCID: PMC2569060  PMID: 18847478
11.  The problems of meta-analysis for antibiotic treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a heterogeneous disease: a commentary on Puhan et al 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:29.
Exacerbations are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Exacerbations can be of bacterial, viral or mixed etiology, with bacteria involved in 50% of exacerbations. Consequently, current management of exacerbations frequently involves the use of antibiotics. The paper by Puhan et al published this month in BMC Medicine examines the benefit of antibiotics in placebo-controlled trials in mild to moderate outpatient exacerbations. The authors use a meta-analytic approach and rightly conclude that more trials are needed in this area. However, the heterogeneity of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients and exacerbations and the limited end-points in past trials do not allow firm conclusions to be drawn about antibiotic use in outpatient exacerbations based on this meta-analysis. Future trials need to take into account this heterogeneity as well as incorporate novel end-points to address this important issue.
PMCID: PMC2569059  PMID: 18847482
12.  Germline polymorphisms as modulators of cancer phenotypes 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:27.
Identifying the complete repertoire of genes and genetic variants that regulate the pathogenesis and progression of human disease is a central goal of post-genomic biomedical research. In cancer, recent studies have shown that genome-wide association studies can be successfully used to identify germline polymorphisms associated with an individual's susceptibility to malignancy. In parallel to these reports, substantial work has also shown that patterns of somatic alterations in human tumors can be successfully employed to predict disease prognosis and treatment response. A paper by Van Ness et al. published this month in BMC Medicine reports the initial results of a multi-institutional consortium for multiple myeloma designed to evaluate the role of germline polymorphisms in influencing multiple myeloma clinical outcome. Applying a custom-designed single nucleotide polymorphism microarray to two separate patient cohorts, the investigators successfully identified specific combinations of germline polymorphisms significantly associated with early clinical relapse. These results raise the exciting possibility that besides somatically acquired alterations, germline genetic background may also exert an important influence on cancer patient prognosis and outcome. Future 'personalized medicine' strategies for cancer may thus require incorporating genomic information from both tumor cells and the non-malignant patient genome.
PMCID: PMC2543032  PMID: 18778478
13.  Genomic variation in myeloma: design, content, and initial application of the Bank On A Cure SNP Panel to detect associations with progression-free survival 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:26.
We have engaged in an international program designated the Bank On A Cure, which has established DNA banks from multiple cooperative and institutional clinical trials, and a platform for examining the association of genetic variations with disease risk and outcomes in multiple myeloma.
We describe the development and content of a novel custom SNP panel that contains 3404 SNPs in 983 genes, representing cellular functions and pathways that may influence disease severity at diagnosis, toxicity, progression or other treatment outcomes. A systematic search of national databases was used to identify non-synonymous coding SNPs and SNPs within transcriptional regulatory regions. To explore SNP associations with PFS we compared SNP profiles of short term (less than 1 year, n = 70) versus long term progression-free survivors (greater than 3 years, n = 73) in two phase III clinical trials.
Quality controls were established, demonstrating an accurate and robust screening panel for genetic variations, and some initial racial comparisons of allelic variation were done. A variety of analytical approaches, including machine learning tools for data mining and recursive partitioning analyses, demonstrated predictive value of the SNP panel in survival. While the entire SNP panel showed genotype predictive association with PFS, some SNP subsets were identified within drug response, cellular signaling and cell cycle genes.
A targeted gene approach was undertaken to develop an SNP panel that can test for associations with clinical outcomes in myeloma. The initial analysis provided some predictive power, demonstrating that genetic variations in the myeloma patient population may influence PFS.
PMCID: PMC2553089  PMID: 18778477
14.  Association between umbilical cord glucocorticoids and blood pressure at age 3 years 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:25.
Animal data show that decreased activity of placental 11-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11β-HSD2), which potently inactivates glucocorticoids (e.g. cortisol) to inert forms (cortisone), allows increased access of maternal glucocorticoids to the fetus and 'programs' hypertension. Data in humans are limited. We examined in humans the association between venous umbilical cord blood glucocorticoids, a potential marker for placental 11β-HSD2 enzyme activity, and blood pressure at age 3 years.
Among 286 newborns in Project Viva, a prospective pre-birth cohort study based in eastern Massachusetts, we measured cortisol (F) and cortisone (E) in venous cord blood and used the ratio of F/E as a marker for placental 11β-HSD2 activity. We measured blood pressure (BP) when the offspring reached age 3 years. Using mixed effects regression models to control for BP measurement conditions, maternal and child characteristics, we examined the association between the F/E ratio and child BP.
At age 3 years, each unit increase in the F/E ratio was associated with a 1.6 mm Hg increase in systolic BP (95% CI 0.0 to 3.1). The F/E ratio was not associated with diastolic blood pressure or birth weight for gestational age z-score.
A higher F/E ratio in umbilical venous cord blood, likely reflecting reduced placental 11β-HSD2 activity, was associated with higher systolic blood pressure at age 3 years. Our data suggest that increased fetal exposure to active maternal glucocorticoids may program later systolic blood pressure.
PMCID: PMC2533350  PMID: 18755017
15.  The pathophysiology of malarial anaemia: where have all the red cells gone? 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:24.
Malarial anaemia is an enormous public health problem in endemic areas and occurs predominantly in children in the first 3 years of life. Anaemia is due to both a great increase in clearance of uninfected cells and a failure of an adequate bone marrow response. Odhiambo, Stoute and colleagues show how the age distribution of malarial anaemia and the haemolysis of red blood cells may be linked by an age-dependent increase in the capacity of red blood cells to inactivate complement components absorbed or deposited directly on to the surface of the red blood cell. In this commentary, we discuss what has been established about the role of complement deposition on the surface of red blood cells in the pathology of malarial anaemia, how genetic polymorphisms of the complement control proteins influence the outcome of malaria infection and how the findings of Odhiambo, Stoute and colleagues and others shed light on the puzzling age distribution of different syndromes of severe malaria.
PMCID: PMC2538540  PMID: 18717996
16.  Increased deposition of C3b on red cells with low CR1 and CD55 in a malaria-endemic region of western Kenya: Implications for the development of severe anemia 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:23.
Severe anemia due to Plasmodium falciparum malaria is a major cause of mortality among young children in western Kenya. The factors that lead to the age-specific incidence of this anemia are unknown. Previous studies have shown an age-related expression of red cell complement regulatory proteins, which protect erythrocytes from autologous complement attack and destruction. Our primary objective was to determine whether in a malaria-endemic area red cells with low levels of complement regulatory proteins are at increased risk for complement (C3b) deposition in vivo. Secondarily, we studied the relationship between red cell complement regulatory protein levels and hemoglobin levels.
Three hundred and forty-two life-long residents of a malaria-holoendemic region of western Kenya were enrolled in a cross-sectional study and stratified by age. We measured red cell C3b, CR1, CD55, and immune complex binding capacity by flow cytometry. Individuals who were positive for malaria were treated and blood was collected when they were free of parasitemia. Analysis of variance was used to identify independent variables associated with the %C3b-positive red cells and the hemoglobin level.
Individuals between the ages of 6 and 36 months had the lowest red cell CR1, highest %C3b-positive red cells, and highest parasite density. Malaria prevalence also reached its peak within this age group. Among children ≤ 24 months of age the %C3b-positive red cells was usually higher in individuals who were treated for malaria than in uninfected individuals with similarly low red cell CR1 and CD55. The variables that most strongly influenced the %C3b-positive red cells were age, malaria status, and red cell CD55 level. Although it did not reach statistical significance, red cell CR1 was more important than red cell CD55 among individuals treated for malaria. The variables that most strongly influenced the hemoglobin level were age, the %C3b-positive red cells, red cell CR1, and red cell CD55.
Increasing malaria prevalence among children >6 to ≤ 36 months of age in western Kenya, together with low red cell CR1 and CD55 levels, results in increased C3b deposition on red cells and low hemoglobin. The strong contribution of age to C3b deposition suggests that there are still additional unidentified age-related factors that increase the susceptibility of red cells to C3b deposition and destruction.
PMCID: PMC2562382  PMID: 18717995
17.  Statins, bone, and neurofibromatosis type 1 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:22.
Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) is a dominantly inherited multi-system disorder. Major features include pigmentary abnormalities, benign tumors of the nerve sheath (neurofibromas), malignant tumors, learning disabilities, and skeletal dysplasia. The NF1 gene functions as a tumor suppressor, but haploinsuffiency probably accounts for some aspects of the non-tumor phenotype. The protein product, neurofibromin, is a Ras GTPase-activating protein, and various Ras pathway inhibitors are being tested in preclinical models and clinical trials for effectiveness in treating NF1 complications. This month in BMC Medicine, a paper by Kolanczyk et al describes a preclinical mouse model for tibial dysplasia and provides evidence that the drug lovastatin – in use to treat cardiovascular disease – may be beneficial, opening the door to clinical trials in humans.
PMCID: PMC2531128  PMID: 18671845
18.  Modelling neurofibromatosis type 1 tibial dysplasia and its treatment with lovastatin 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:21.
Bowing and/or pseudarthrosis of the tibia is a known severe complication of neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1). Mice with conditionally inactivated neurofibromin (Nf1) in the developing limbs and cranium (Nf1Prx1) show bowing of the tibia caused by decreased bone mineralisation and increased bone vascularisation. However, in contrast to NF1 patients, spontaneous fractures do not occur in Nf1Prx1 mice probably due to the relatively low mechanical load. We studied bone healing in a cortical bone injury model in Nf1Prx1 mice as a model for NF1-associated bone disease. Taking advantage of this experimental model we explore effects of systemically applied lovastatin, a cholesterol-lowering drug, on the Nf1 deficient bone repair.
Cortical injury was induced bilaterally in the tuberositas tibiae in Nf1Prx1 mutant mice and littermate controls according to a method described previously. Paraffin as well as methacrylate sections were analysed from each animal. We divided 24 sex-matched mutant mice into a lovastatin-treated and an untreated group. The lovastatin-treated mice received 0.15 mg activated lovastatin by daily gavage. The bone repair process was analysed at three consecutive time points post injury, using histological methods, micro computed tomography measurements and in situ hybridisation. At each experimental time point, three lovastatin-treated mutant mice, three untreated mutant mice and three untreated control mice were analysed. The animal group humanely killed on day 14 post injury was expanded to six treated and six untreated mutant mice as well as six control mice.
Bone injury repair is a complex process, which requires the concerted effort of numerous cell types. It is initiated by an inflammatory response, which stimulates fibroblasts from the surrounding connective tissue to proliferate and fill in the injury site with a provisional extracellular matrix. In parallel, mesenchymal progenitor cells from the periost are recruited into the injury site to become osteoblasts. In Nf1Prx1 mice bone repair is delayed and characterised by the excessive formation and the persistence of fibro-cartilaginous tissue and impaired extracellular matrix mineralisation. Correspondingly, expression of Runx2 is downregulated. High-dose systemic lovastatin treatment restores Runx2 expression and accelerates new bone formation, thus improving cortical bone repair in Nf1Prx1 tibia. The bone anabolic effects correlate with a reduction of the mitogen activated protein kinase pathway hyper-activation in Nf1-deficient cells.
Our data suggest the potential usefulness of lovastatin, a drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1987 for the treatment of hypercholesteraemia, in the treatment of Nf1-related fracture healing abnormalities. The experimental model presented here constitutes a valuable tool for the pre-clinical stage testing of candidate drugs, targeting Nf1-associated bone dysplasia.
PMCID: PMC2516519  PMID: 18671844
19.  Connexin-43 upregulation in micrometastases and tumor vasculature and its role in tumor cell attachment to pulmonary endothelium 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:20.
The modulation of gap junctional communication between tumor cells and between tumor and vascular endothelial cells during tumorigenesis and metastasis is complex. The notion of a role for loss of gap junctional intercellular communication in tumorigenesis and metastasis has been controversial. While some of the stages of tumorigenesis and metastasis, such as uncontrolled cell division and cellular detachment, would necessitate the loss of intercellular junctions, other stages, such as intravasation, endothelial attachment, and vascularization, likely require increased cell-cell contact. We hypothesized that, in this multi-stage scheme, connexin-43 is centrally involved as a cell adhesion molecule mediating metastatic tumor attachment to the pulmonary endothelium.
Tumor cell attachment to pulmonary vasculature, tumor growth, and connexin-43 expression was studied in metastatic lung tumor sections obtained after tail-vein injection into nude mice of syngeneic breast cancer cell lines, overexpressing wild type connexin-43 or dominant-negatively mutated connexin-43 proteins. High-resolution immunofluorescence microscopy and Western blot analysis was performed using a connexin-43 monoclonal antibody. Calcein Orange Red AM dye transfer by fluorescence imaging was used to evaluate the gap junction function.
Adhesion of breast cancer cells to the pulmonary endothelium increased with cancer cells overexpressing connexin-43 and markedly decreased with cells expressing dominant-negative connexin-43. Upregulation of connexin-43 was observed in tumor cell-endothelial cell contact areas in vitro and in vivo, and in areas of intratumor blood vessels and in micrometastatic foci.
Connexin-43 facilitates metastatic 'homing' by increasing adhesion of cancer cells to the lung endothelial cells. The marked upregulation of connexin-43 in tumor cell-endothelial cell contact areas, whether in preexisting 'homing' vessels or in newly formed tumor vessels, suggests that connexin-43 can serve as a potential marker of micrometastases and tumor vasculature and that it may play a role in the early incorporation of endothelial cells into small tumors as seeds for vasculogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2492868  PMID: 18647409
20.  A panel of kallikrein markers can reduce unnecessary biopsy for prostate cancer: data from the European Randomized Study of Prostate Cancer Screening in Göteborg, Sweden 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:19.
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is widely used to detect prostate cancer. The low positive predictive value of elevated PSA results in large numbers of unnecessary prostate biopsies. We set out to determine whether a multivariable model including four kallikrein forms (total, free, and intact PSA, and human kallikrein 2 (hK2)) could predict prostate biopsy outcome in previously unscreened men with elevated total PSA.
The study cohort comprised 740 men in Göteborg, Sweden, undergoing biopsy during the first round of the European Randomized study of Screening for Prostate Cancer. We calculated the area-under-the-curve (AUC) for predicting prostate cancer at biopsy. AUCs for a model including age and PSA (the 'laboratory' model) and age, PSA and digital rectal exam (the 'clinical' model) were compared with those for models that also included additional kallikreins.
Addition of free and intact PSA and hK2 improved AUC from 0.68 to 0.83 and from 0.72 to 0.84, for the laboratory and clinical models respectively. Using a 20% risk of prostate cancer as the threshold for biopsy would have reduced the number of biopsies by 424 (57%) and missed only 31 out of 152 low-grade and 3 out of 40 high-grade cancers.
Multiple kallikrein forms measured in blood can predict the result of biopsy in previously unscreened men with elevated PSA. A multivariable model can determine which men should be advised to undergo biopsy and which might be advised to continue screening, but defer biopsy until there was stronger evidence of malignancy.
PMCID: PMC2474851  PMID: 18611265
21.  Assessment of strategies for switching patients from olanzapine to risperidone: A randomized, open-label, rater-blinded study 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:17.
In clinical practice, physicians often need to change the antipsychotic medications they give to patients because of an inadequate response or the presence of unacceptable or unsafe side effects. However, there is a lack of consensus in the field as to the optimal switching strategy for antipsychotics, especially with regards to the speed at which the dose of the previous antipsychotic should be reduced. This paper assesses the short-term results of strategies for the discontinuation of olanzapine when initiating risperidone.
In a 6-week, randomized, open-label, rater-blinded study, patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, on a stable drug dose for more than 30 days at entry, who were intolerant of or exhibiting a suboptimal symptom response to more than 30 days of olanzapine treatment, were randomly assigned to the following switch strategies (common risperidone initiation scheme; varying olanzapine discontinuation): (i) abrupt strategy, where olanzapine was discontinued at risperidone initiation; (ii) gradual 1 strategy, where olanzapine was given at 50% entry dose for 1 week after risperidone initiation and then discontinued; or (iii) gradual 2 strategy, where olanzapine was given at 100% entry dose for 1 week, then at 50% in the second week, and then discontinued.
The study enrolled 123 patients on stable doses of olanzapine. Their mean age was 40.3 years and mean (± standard deviation (SD)) baseline Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) total score of 75.6 ± 11.5. All-cause treatment discontinuation was lowest (12%) in the group with the slowest olanzapine dose reduction (gradual 2) and occurred at half the discontinuation rate in the other two groups (25% in abrupt and 28% in gradual 1). The relative risk of early discontinuation was 0.77 (confidence interval 0.61–0.99) for the slowest dose reduction compared with the other two strategies. After the medication was changed, improvements at endpoint were seen in PANSS total score (-7.3; p < 0.0001) and in PANSS positive (-3.0; p < 0.0001), negative (-0.9; p = 0.171) and anxiety/depression (-1.4; p = 0.0005) subscale scores. Severity of movement disorders and weight changes were minimal.
When switching patients from olanzapine to risperidone, a gradual reduction in the dose of olanzapine over 2 weeks was associated with higher rates of retention compared with abrupt or less gradual discontinuation. Switching via any strategy was associated with significant improvements in positive and anxiety symptoms and was generally well tolerated.
Trial registration NCT00378183
PMCID: PMC2474645  PMID: 18590519
22.  Commentary on strategies for switching antipsychotics 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:18.
Both the new generation of antipsychotics and the more traditional antipsychotic drugs produce an important and meaningful improvement in patients with schizophrenia, but most patients are neither cured nor free of symptoms. As a consequence, it is common to switch from one drug to another in the hope of obtaining a better response. All antipsychotic drugs produce some side effects, so switching can also be a tolerance issue. There are reports in the literature on the tactics of switching: abrupt discontinuation, cross tapering, starting a patient on a new drug while continuing with the old drug until the new drug has reached a steady state, or some variation on these tactics. In this issue, Ganguli et al. have carried out a randomized switching study, the data from which indicates the tactics that might be optimal. We put this paper into context, provide a critique and describe indications for switching.
PMCID: PMC2453133  PMID: 18590521
23.  Tracking the spatial diffusion of influenza and norovirus using telehealth data: A spatiotemporal analysis of syndromic data 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:16.
Telehealth systems have a large potential for informing public health authorities in an early stage of outbreaks of communicable disease. Influenza and norovirus are common viruses that cause significant respiratory and gastrointestinal disease worldwide. Data about these viruses are not routinely mapped for surveillance purposes in the UK, so the spatial diffusion of national outbreaks and epidemics is not known as such incidents occur. We aim to describe the geographical origin and diffusion of rises in fever and vomiting calls to a national telehealth system, and consider the usefulness of these findings for influenza and norovirus surveillance.
Data about fever calls (5- to 14-year-old age group) and vomiting calls (≥ 5-year-old age group) in school-age children, proxies for influenza and norovirus, respectively, were extracted from the NHS Direct national telehealth database for the period June 2005 to May 2006. The SaTScan space-time permutation model was used to retrospectively detect statistically significant clusters of calls on a week-by-week basis. These syndromic results were validated against existing laboratory and clinical surveillance data.
We identified two distinct periods of elevated fever calls. The first originated in the North-West of England during November 2005 and spread in a south-east direction, the second began in Central England during January 2006 and moved southwards. The timing, geographical location, and age structure of these rises in fever calls were similar to a national influenza B outbreak that occurred during winter 2005–2006. We also identified significantly elevated levels of vomiting calls in South-East England during winter 2005–2006.
Spatiotemporal analyses of telehealth data, specifically fever calls, provided a timely and unique description of the evolution of a national influenza outbreak. In a similar way the tool may be useful for tracking norovirus, although the lack of consistent comparison data makes this more difficult to assess. In interpreting these results, care must be taken to consider other infectious and non-infectious causes of fever and vomiting. The scan statistic should be considered for spatial analyses of telehealth data elsewhere and will be used to initiate prospective geographical surveillance of influenza in England.
PMCID: PMC2464582  PMID: 18582364
24.  MicroRNAs: regulators of oncogenesis and stemness 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:15.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are essential post-transcriptional regulators that determine cell identity and fate. Aberrant expression of miRNAs can lead to diseases, including cancer. Expression of many miRNAs in the de-differentiated brain tumor cancer stem cells resembles that of neural stem cells. In this issue of BMC Medicine, Silber et al provide evidence of the expression of such miRNAs and their potential to mediate differentiation in both stem cell populations. In this commentary, we discuss the known functions of miRNAs in cancer and stem cells, their therapeutic potential and how the findings of Silber et al provide insight into the role of miR-124/miR-137 dysregulation in glioblastomas.
PMCID: PMC2443163  PMID: 18577221
25.  miR-124 and miR-137 inhibit proliferation of glioblastoma multiforme cells and induce differentiation of brain tumor stem cells 
BMC Medicine  2008;6:14.
Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is an invariably fatal central nervous system tumor despite treatment with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Further insights into the molecular and cellular mechanisms that drive GBM formation are required to improve patient outcome. MicroRNAs are emerging as important regulators of cellular differentiation and proliferation, and have been implicated in the etiology of a variety of cancers, yet the role of microRNAs in GBM remains poorly understood. In this study, we investigated the role of microRNAs in regulating the differentiation and proliferation of neural stem cells and glioblastoma-multiforme tumor cells.
We used quantitative RT-PCR to assess microRNA expression in high-grade astrocytomas and adult mouse neural stem cells. To assess the function of candidate microRNAs in high-grade astrocytomas, we transfected miR mimics to cultured-mouse neural stem cells, -mouse oligodendroglioma-derived stem cells, -human glioblastoma multiforme-derived stem cells and -glioblastoma multiforme cell lines. Cellular differentiation was assessed by immunostaining, and cellular proliferation was determined using fluorescence-activated cell sorting.
Our studies revealed that expression levels of microRNA-124 and microRNA-137 were significantly decreased in anaplastic astrocytomas (World Health Organization grade III) and glioblastoma multiforme (World Health Organization grade IV) relative to non-neoplastic brain tissue (P < 0.01), and were increased 8- to 20-fold during differentiation of cultured mouse neural stem cells following growth factor withdrawal. Expression of microRNA-137 was increased 3- to 12-fold in glioblastoma multiforme cell lines U87 and U251 following inhibition of DNA methylation with 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine (5-aza-dC). Transfection of microRNA-124 or microRNA-137 induced morphological changes and marker expressions consistent with neuronal differentiation in mouse neural stem cells, mouse oligodendroglioma-derived stem cells derived from S100β-v-erbB tumors and cluster of differentiation 133+ human glioblastoma multiforme-derived stem cells (SF6969). Transfection of microRNA-124 or microRNA-137 also induced G1 cell cycle arrest in U251 and SF6969 glioblastoma multiforme cells, which was associated with decreased expression of cyclin-dependent kinase 6 and phosphorylated retinoblastoma (pSer 807/811) proteins.
microRNA-124 and microRNA-137 induce differentiation of adult mouse neural stem cells, mouse oligodendroglioma-derived stem cells and human glioblastoma multiforme-derived stem cells and induce glioblastoma multiforme cell cycle arrest. These results suggest that targeted delivery of microRNA-124 and/or microRNA-137 to glioblastoma multiforme tumor cells may be therapeutically efficacious for the treatment of this disease.
PMCID: PMC2443372  PMID: 18577219

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