Lab Notes – Spring 2019

Deciphering Herpes Hybridization

Herpesviruses reproduce in an unusual way. Normally, DNA viruses replicate their genes by copying each strand of the double-stranded DNA. But researchers have suspected that herpesvirus uses recombination — exchanging one version of a gene with another related version — to replicate. Now, UConn Health researchers from Sandra Weller’s lab have found another clue: a specific viral protein that seems essential to the new DNA’s ability to assimilate into the strand. This protein may provide a target for new herpes drugs. Blocking the protein responsible for the insertion event prevents the virus from copying its own DNA. If it can’t copy its DNA, it can’t reproduce, and so the herpesvirus can’t be infectious or reactivate after going dormant.

herpes virus

Electron micrograph of HHV-6, human herpesvirus-6


‘Stealth Condition’ Riskier Than Previously Thought

The Western world’s most common genetic disorder is a “stealth condition” that causes far more death and disability than previously thought. Hemochromatosis, which causes people to absorb too much iron from their food, quadruples the risk of liver disease, doubles the risk of arthritis and frailty in old age, and causes a higher risk of diabetes and chronic pain, report researchers at UConn Health and the University of Exeter. It’s thought that the extra iron absorption was advantageous for northern European women eating poor diets, but is harmful in today’s iron-rich food supply. Although more than 1 million Americans have hereditary hemochromatosis, few doctors are taught to look for the condition in the early stages of joint pain and tiredness, when it can be easily treated.


Moving the Motivation Meter

Two novel drugs kick-start motivation in rats suffering from apathy and a lack of oomph, UConn researchers led by behavioral neuroscientist John Salamone reported at the 2018 Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego. Both of the experimental drugs cause a buildup of dopamine in the synapses between brain cells. Stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine do the same thing, but in a much more extreme way. The researchers are now testing other, chemically related drugs to see which are most effective and have the least potential for abuse. Lack of motivation is a common symptom of depression that’s harder to treat than other symptoms; the findings could point toward potential treatments.


Targeting Tricky Tuberculosis

school of fish

Tuberculosis is a sneaky disease. The bacteria that cause it allow themselves to be eaten by the immune cells sent to destroy them. But instead of dying, mycobacterium tuberculosis sets up housekeeping and multiplies before busting out to infect more cells. Antibiotics can’t get inside the immune cells, so the only time the mycobacterium are vulnerable are when they’ve just broken out and are cruising for a new cell to infect. But now, UConn chemist Alfredo Angeles-Boza and his colleagues have found certain antibiotic proteins from fish can get at the mycobacterium where they hide, and report their results in ACS Infectious Diseases.


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