April 2013

Glycans: the underappreciated building block of life

Glycans are saccharides that can be attached to a wide variety of biological molecules through an enzymatic process called glycosylation to augment their function. Of the four fundamental building blocks of life, proteins, carbohydrates (glycans), lipids and nucleic acids, glycans have received the least attention from researchers. Glycans are found in Archaea, bacteria and eukaryotes, and their diverse functions contribute to physical and structural integrity, extracellular matrix formation, signal transduction, protein folding and information exchange between cells (and pathogens). A recent issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry highlighted the important and diverse biological functions of glycans in a thematic minireview series organized by Associate Editor Gerald W. Hart.


Swapping cousins: deuterium for hydrogen

What do snake venom, sperm maturation and pancreatic fluid have in common? Phospholipase A2, a group of enzymes that release fatty acids from phospholipid components of biological membranes. The released fatty acids, especially arachidonic acid, play regulatory roles in inflammatory responses, thus making phospholipases highly valuable for therapeutic purposes.


Tomatoes with mimic of good-cholesterol peptide benefit mice

Researchers have come up with genetically engineered tomatoes that could stave off heart attacks and strokes. In a recent paper in the Journal of Lipid Research, a team led by Srinivasa Reddy and Alan Fogelman at the University of California, Los Angeles, described fruit that contained a protein that helps to halt atherosclerosis, the buildup of arterial plaques that leads to heart attacks and strokes.


Blood proteins may forewarn of pregnancy complications

No pregnant woman gets excited about invasive procedures. But for the diagnosis of some complications, pregnant women have to undergo procedures such as amniocentesis. Researchers have been aiming to come up with less invasive tests. In a paper in a recent issue of Molecular & Cellular Proteomics, scientists describe how a class of proteins can be tracked reliably in blood samples taken from pregnant women and found hints that changes in expression patterns of this class of proteins may indicate if a pregnant woman is at risk for premature delivery.

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