No 15/December 19, 2001

DRASIC the Yin and Yang of Touch and Pain

Our senses of touch and pain, opposites one might think, have something in common, an ion channel called DRASIC. DRASIC, which stands for dorsal root ganglion acid sensitive channel, has just been shown to be critical for both these senses as reported by a research group led by Gary Lewin at the Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin-Buch together with an American group led by Michael Welsh at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, USA. Their results have just been published in the journal Neuron (Vol. 32, No. 6, pp. 1071-1083, December 19, 2001)*. This new study reveals a surprising diversity of function for the DRASIC channel and shows directly that the channel does not work alone but in concert with other as yet unknown proteins. The new data will facilitate the discovery of these proteins that mediate the molecular interactions that distinguish the senses of touch and pain. Finally, these new findings provide direct evidence that the ion channel DRASIC could be a very useful pharmacological target for the treatment of our aches and pains.

No 14 /December 1, 2001

From Hydra to Humans

A Family of Enzymes and their Connection to Tumour Development

Some years ago scientists have discovered a family of more than 25 enzymes which regulate many important biological processes. They are fairly ubiquitous as they occur from hydra (polyps) to humans. However, they also play a crucial role in the development of cancer and in metastasis. These enzymes are called matrix metalloproteases (MMPs). The name refers to one of their many abilities: they are able to degrade proteins of the extracellular matrix (ECM), a foundation in which cells are embedded. And their catalytic activity depends on metal ions. Hopes have been high of preventing these enzymes from promoting tumours by administering specific inhibitors. “However, results achieved in animal and clincial trials have been disappointing”, Professor Zena Werb from the University of California in San Francisco, USA, said at an international conference on “Cell Migration in Development and Disease” of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch on Friday, November 30, 2001. “But far more mechanisms remain unidentified or unproven, thus leaving the field ripe for important new insights and further progress,” the researcher is convinced.

No 13 / November 30, 2001

Novel Findings on Hodgkin’s Disease

Messengers lure malignant cells to certain regions in lymph nodes

Messengers of the immune system, which are normally engaged in the targeted deployment of defense cells, also appear to assign malignant cells to specific sites in the body. This novel discovery about Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a malignant condition that involves the lymph nodes, has just been announced by Dr. Martin Lipp (Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, MDC, Berlin-Buch) at an international conference on ”Cell Migration in Development and Disease” at the MDC in Berlin (Germany). He has been able to show that  Hodgkin’s cells are only able to establish themselves in certain regions of the lymph nodes, the so-called T-cell zones.

No 12 /November 29, 2001

How Cells Find Their Way

Cells have to be able to communicate with each other in order to collaborate and to react to their environment. Only then can they develop, migrate, detect bacteria and viruses, build axons and blood vessels. These processes are important for the development of embryos, for the functioning of the immune system, for wound healing, the creation of the nervous system and angiogenesis. They are triggered by extracellular chemical signals, socalled chemoattractants. Cells are able to detect and follow these chemoattractants in a directed way (chemotaxis). How do they do that? “All living cells can sense their environment”, said Peter Devreotes, cell biologist and Professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (USA) at the international conference on “Cell Migration in  Development and Disease” of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch on Thursday, November 29, 2001.

No. 10/8. November 2001

Cholesterol allows nerve cells to make contact

Potential new perspectives on the future treatment of brain injuries and brain dysfunction.

Cholesterol is one of the factors involved in allowing nerve cells (neurons) to communicate with each other and exchange electrical signals. This discovery is of vital importance for the function of the nervous system. It was made by researchers from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin-Buch in conjunction with a group from the Max Planck Gesellschaft (MPG) and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) at the Centre de Neurochimie in Strasbourg, France. The latest research results of the neurobiologists, Daniela Mauch and Dr Frank Pfrieger, have been published in the leading  American journal, Science (Vol. 294, No.5545,  pp.1354-1357). Cholesterol is formed by glial cells which make up a considerable part of the brain tissue and support its development and function in a variety of ways. These results that the researchers have obtained shine a completely new light on the role of cholesterol. They suggest that the cholesterol metabolism in the central nervous system (CNS) affects the development of the brain as well as its learning and memory capabilities. They also signal new areas of  neurobiological research and the  development of strategies e.g. for the treatment of spinal cord injuries or the pathological changes that lead to brain dysfunction such as occurs in Alzheimer’s disease.


International Conference

“Cell Migration in Development and Disease”

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch

Thursday, November 29 – Saturday, December 1, 2001, Berlin, FRG

No 9./October 27, 2001

Obesity – A Worldwide Epidemic

Weighty Consequence of Western Lifestyle and Urbanisation

Worldwide around 250 million people are currently overweight or obese. The World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva estimates that this number will increase to 300 million by 2025. “Today, obesity has become a worldwide epidemic”, said Prof. Dr. Jaap C. Seidell, from the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven (The Netherlands) on Saturday, October 27, 2001 at the “2nd International Symposium on Obesity and Hypertension” (ISOH`01) at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch. “The increase in obesity is most notable in countries undergoing rapid economic transition, as in many countries of Asia and Latin America”. The Dutch epidemiologist referred to a recent WHO report which attributed this process to the adoption of “western” lifestyles such as high-calorie diets and lack of physical activity.

No 8/October 25, 2001

Do Genes Determine Whether We Lose Weight Or Not?

Some people can eat as much as they want without gaining any weight. On the other hand, others who want or have to lose weight for health reasons, may have difficulty. “The reasons for these variations are only poorly understood, although genetic factors should be considered”, Prof. Vojtech Hainer from the Obesity Management Centre, Charles University, Medical Faculty, Prague (Czech Republic), said in a press conference on October 25, 2001 at the ”2nd International Symposium on Obesity and Hypertension” at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch (Germany). Scientists and clinicians are trying to find the reason for this phenomenon and discover the role played by genes in weight loss and weight control. One approach is to carry out twin studies. Monozygotic twins possess the same genetic profile, whereas dizygotic twins have only the same genetic pattern as other siblings. A study of monozygotic female twins in Prague showed that the variations in weight loss were quite marked within the group, ranging from about six kilograms to 12.4 kilograms. However, among those twins who were siblings, the weight loss was almost identical. “The intrapair similarity in weight loss shows that genetic factors play a role in weight loss”, Prof. Hainer stressed. “Increased information about the  multiple genes involved in the regulation of food intake, energy expenditure and fat storage is contributing to a molecular understanding of body weight regulation which will lead to new and more efficient methods for obesity management”, according to Prof. Hainer, chairman of the Czech Obesity Society.

No. 7/25. October 2001

Obesity - Researchers go on a Gene Hunt

Homo sapiens not genetically suited to a Modern Lifestyle - Obese People should not be stigmatised by Society

The genetic programme that ensured the survival of our forefathers in the stone age is clearly much less suitable for modern homo sapiens. Hunter-gatherers were able to live off the fat their bodies stored up in the good times when their food supply ran out but, nowadays, people normally have enough to eat and do not have to go hungry. Improvements in living conditions with a diet high in fat and a reluctance to take enough physical exercise have, in the last couple of decades, led to millions of people in developed countries in the West, and also in some developing countries, putting on excess weight and even becoming obese. There has also been an increase in the number of young children and teenagers who are overweight. The German Society of Nutrition estimates that about one in every six children of school age in the Federal Republic is too fat. However, according to Prof. Johannes Hebebrand, a child psychiatrist and bioscientist at the University of Marburg, our genes are at least partly to blame for this. “Our genetic profile is unsuitable for a modern lifestyle. This means that obesity is also under genetic control. This is shown by studies involving thousands of twins, adopted children and families”, he claimed at a press conference on October 25, 2001, held as part of the 2nd International Symposium on Obesity and Hypertension at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch (Germany).

No 6/October 25, 2001

Weight Management Prevents the Sequelae of Obesity

Fat Cells Regulate Blood Pressure - How effective is Medication for Hypertension and Diabetes?

Obesity, hypertension and type-2 diabetes damage blood vessels, the heart and kidneys. As a result, obese individuals often develop heart diseases, stroke, or kidney problems.  ”The most effective way to reduce these severe health risks is to lose weight. However, most patients fail to achieve long-term weight loss. Blaming the patient for this failure is too easy”, Prof. Arya Sharma, physician and hypertension expert (Franz Volhard Clinic for Cardiovascular Diseases, Charité, Medical School, Humboldt University of Berlin) pointed out in a press conference held on October 25, 2001 at the ”2nd International Symposium on Obesity and Hypertension”. ”In recent years we have gained new insights into the importance of genetic factors for the development of obesity and the complexity with which the body regulates and defends its body weight. Also, the drugs often used to manage hypertension and diabetes may make it even more difficult for patients to lose weight. New findings now also show that fat cells produce a host of mediators that can affect blood pressure and metabolic function”. The physician, who is one of the organisers of this symposium at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, expressed his hope, that these new findings will lead to new preventive strategies and new drugs to effectively treat obesity and related diseases.

No 5/October 25, 2001

Obesity – A Major Risk Factor for Ill Health

High Impact on Health Care Costs - International Scientific Symposium at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin

“Obesity and Hypertension” are the main topics of an International Symposium to be held in Berlin (Germany) at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch from October 25 - October 27, 2001. Obesity is currently recognised as a worldwide epidemic affecting more than 250 million people. It is also becoming a major problem in Asia and Latin America, as these countries increasingly adopt “an urban style” including high-calorie diets and sedentary lifestyle. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases including hypertension, diabetes, osteoarthritis, certain forms of cancer and other comorbidities. It is, therefore, a major component of health-care costs. The annual follow-up costs of obesity-related disorders in Germany are estimated to exceed 30 to 35 billion Deutsch marks. This accounts for 7 to 8 per cent of the total health-care expenditure, says Arya Sharma, physician and hypertension expert at the Franz Volhard Clinic for Cardiovascular Diseases of the Charité, Medical School of the Humboldt University of Berlin and one of the organisers of the symposium.

No 4/September 28, 2001

”Me and my Genes”

Two German Research Institutions to participate in Polish Science Festival

Two scientific research institutions from Germany are to participate in this years Polish Science Festival in Warsaw for the first time. It is the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch with the Berlin Life Science Learning Center and the GSF-National Research Center for Environment and Health from Neuherberg near Munich. ”Me and my Genes” is the title of the presentation given by young Berlin biochemist Dr. Christian Unger. Visitors to the small mobile laboratory can learn how to extract DNA, the molecule of life, from fresh fruit or human cells. Dr. Unger will be at the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics of the Polish Academy of Sciences (Polska Akademia Nauk, PAN; Pawinskiego 5a)
on Saturday, September 29, 2001. He will give two presentations – at 10:00 am and 1:00 pm respectively. ”Drinking Water from River Filtration Process: Isotope Measurements and Computer Modelling” is the title of the presentation given by Prof. Dr. Piotr Maloszewski from the GSF Institute of Hydrology. He will be at the Informatics Centre at the Agricultural University of Warsaw, (SGGW; Nowoursynowska 166) also on Saturday, September 29, 11:00 am. Prof. Maloszewski is a Polish scientist who has been working in the GSF since 1984. Also two research institutions from the United Kingdom will be present in Warsaw. Prof. Magdalena Fikus, one of the initiators and organisers of the Science Festival from the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics of Warsaw University, opened the Science Festival which took place at the Concert Hall of Polish Radio in Warsaw on September 20, at 6:00 pm. More than 400 different events prepared by 150 institutes of Warsaw University, have been presented, said Prof. Fikus. The debate ”Agression, Dark Side of Man” closed the festival on September 30 .

No 2/August 9, 2001

Cave Explorers

Function of small caves on cell surfaces revealed

More than fifty years ago scientists discovered small invaginations or caves (caveolae) on the surface of different cells without knowing anything about their function. However, finally today with the help of genetic engineering scientists have been able to unveil a few of their secrets. Dr. Marek Drab* (Franz Volhard Clinic of the Medical Faculty of the Charité, Humboldt-University Berlin, and Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, MDC, Berlin-Buch) and Prof. Teymuras Kurzchalia (Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden) were able to show that these small caves play a fundamental role in organizing multiple signaling pathways in the cell. They appear to be vital for pulmonary and cardiovascular function. The scientists have published their findings in the scientific journal Science (Published online August 9, 2001; 10.1126/science.1062688, Science Express Reports).

No.1/May 17, 2001

Skin and Hair

MDC Researchers Discover the Mechanism that Controls Stem Cells

Scientists at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, a National Research Laboratory of the Helmholtz Association, have obtained new insights into the development of skin and hair. Dr. Joerg Huelsken and Prof. Walter Birchmeier have been able to show how skin stem cells are controlled. These skin stem cells ensure that both skin cells and hair follicles develop normally. The two separate programs for development are controlled by one signal molecule, beta-Catenin. The results obtained by Dr. Huelsken, Regina Vogel, Dr. Bettina Erdmann,  Dr. George Cotsarelis (University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA) and Prof. Birchmeier have just been published in the prestigious American journal Cell (Vol 105, No. 4, pp.533 – 545*).