UConn Chemistry

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.

Lab Notes – Fall 2017

E-Cigarettes Not a Safe Alternative

Using a new low-cost, 3-D-printed testing device, UConn researchers found that e-cigarettes loaded with a nicotine-based liquid are potentially as harmful as unfiltered cigarettes when it comes to causing DNA damage. The researchers also found that vapor from non-nicotine e-cigarettes caused as much potentially cancer-causing DNA damage as filtered cigarettes, possibly due to the many chemical additives present in e-cigarette vapors. Several factors impact the amount of DNA damage e-cigarettes cause, says Karteek Kadimisetty, a postdoctoral researcher in UConn’s chemistry department and the study’s lead author. “I never expected the DNA damage from e-cigarettes to be equal to tobacco cigarettes,” says Kadimisetty. “I ran the controls again. I even diluted the samples. But the trend was still there — something in the e-cigarettes was definitely causing damage to the DNA.” The findings appear in the journal ACS Sensors.

electronic cigarette


New Device Tests Heart Health

finger pricked with a spot of blood (for blood sugar test)

UConn researchers from the Department of Mechanical Engineering have developed a device that can test blood viscosity during a routine office visit. The heart must work harder to pump sticky — high viscosity — blood, and studies have shown thicker blood can indicate cardiac event and stroke risk. UConn associate professor of mechanical engineering George Lykotrafitis and doctoral candidate Kostyantyn Partola have filed a provisional patent on the small electronic device, which requires just a finger prick of blood, gives precise readings in minutes, and costs under $1,000. Currently, physicians must send large blood samples to off-site labs for analysis in a rheometer. “With this information, doctors can suggest simple lifestyle changes on the spot to prevent their patients from having a stroke or heart attack,” says Partola.


The Lack of Black Men in Medicine

Male african-american doctor

Medical school matriculation rates for black males have failed to surpass those from 35 years ago, according to a recent UConn Health analysis of data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. African-American men make up just 2.8 percent of the applicants to medical school. Out of all African-American applicants, only 38 percent are men, and black males who are unsuccessful in their first application are less likely to reapply than their white counterparts, the researchers write in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. “The absence of Black males in medical school represents an American crisis that threatens efforts to effectively address health disparities and excellence in clinical care,” wrote authors Dr. Cato T. Laurencin and Marsha Murray.


Lifting Spirits Doesn’t Require Many Reps

25KG weight

More physical activity is not necessarily better when it comes to improving your mood, especially if you spend most of your day sitting, UConn and Hartford Hospital researchers found in a recent study. The work, published in the Journal of Health Psychology, found that people who led sedentary lives and engaged in light or moderate activity showed the greatest improvement in overall sense of well-being. Further, the study found no positive or negative association between high-intensity physical activity and subjective well-being, contradicting a widely reported recent study that found high-intensity workouts significantly lowered some people’s sense of well-being.