Medicine research news Return to previous page
Article Released Sun-15th-February-2009 18:07 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Gene therapy for AIDS

Summaries of newsworthy papers include Erasing fearful memories, Lighting up brain maps, Relicts of martian ice?, Common variants that regulate blood pressure, Nitrous oxide hot spots and Once a boggy plant, always a boggy plant?


For papers that will be published online on 15 February 2009

This press release is copyrighted to the Nature journals mentioned below.

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Medicine: Gene therapy for AIDS

Neuroscience: Erasing fearful memories

Methods: Lighting up brain maps

Geoscience: Relicts of martian ice?

Genetics: Common variants that regulate blood pressure

Geoscience: Nitrous oxide hot spots

And finally…Once a boggy plant, always a boggy plant?

· Mention of papers to be published at the same time with the same embargo

· Geographical listing of authors

PDFs of all the papers mentioned on this release can be found in the relevant journal’s section of Press contacts for the Nature journals are listed at the end of this release.

Warning: This document, and the Nature journal papers to which it refers, may contain information that is price sensitive (as legally defined, for example, in the UK Criminal Justice Act 1993 Part V) with respect to publicly quoted companies. Anyone dealing in securities using information contained in this document, or in advance copies of a Nature journal’s content, may be guilty of insider trading under the US Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

PICTURES: To obtain artwork from any of the journals, you must first obtain permission from the copyright holder (if named) or author of the research paper in question (if not).

NOTE: Once a paper is published, the digital object identifier (DOI) number can be used to retrieve the abstract and full text from the journal web site (abstracts are available to everyone, full text is available only to subscribers). To do this, add the DOI to the following URL: (For example, For more information about DOIs and Advance Online Publication, see

HYPE: We take great care not to hype the papers mentioned on our press releases, but are sometimes accused of doing so. If you ever consider that a story has been hyped, please do not hesitate to contact us at, citing the specific example.


[1] Medicine: Gene therapy for AIDS
DOI: 10.1038/nm.1932

The results from the first clinical trial of gene therapy in patients infected with HIV are reported online in Nature Medicine this week.

Gene therapy is an appealing option to treat AIDS, as it has the potential to be a once-only treatment that reduces viral load, preserves the immune system and avoids lifetime antiretroviral therapy. Ronald Mitsuyasu and colleagues have now completed the first randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, gene transfer clinical trial in 74 HIV-infected adults.

The patients received either placebo or blood stem cells carrying a molecule called OZ1, which prevented viral replication by targeting two key HIV proteins. OZ1 was safe, causing no adverse effects over the course of the trial. Although there was no statistical difference in viral load between the OZ1 and placebo group at weeks 47 and 48 of the trial, counts of CD4+ lymphocytes—the cell population that is depleted by HIV—were higher in the OZ1 group at 100 weeks.

This study indicates that gene therapy is safe and active in people with HIV and can be developed as a conventional therapy against AIDS.

Author contact:
Ronald Mitsuyasu (University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 310 557 1891; E-mail:

[2] Neuroscience: Erasing fearful memories
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2271

Scientists have discovered a way of preventing reactivation of fear memories in humans, reports a paper online this week in Nature Neuroscience. The method, using beta-adrenergic receptor blockers, could be useful for weakening or erasing emotional memory of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Studies in animal models have shown that fear memories can change when recalled, a process known as reconsolidation, and that this reconsolidation stage is vulnerable to beta-adrenergic receptor blockers. Merel Kindt and colleagues did a double-blind study in humans, where subjects learned to associate pictures of spiders with a mild shock, creating a fearful memory. Later, they were given a beta-blocker, propranolol, or a placebo. Merel Kindt and colleagues found that the group given propranolol had a greatly decreased fear response to the spider pictures 24 hours later. Strikingly, the propranolol-treated subjects showed no reinstatement of the fear response, suggesting that their fear memory was completely erased.

Author contact:
Merel Kindt (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Tel: +31 205 256 044; E-mail:

[3] Methods: Lighting up brain maps
DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.1303

A paper describing a fast and precise light-based method for making functional maps of the mouse brain is published online this week in Nature Methods. The method is orders of magnitude faster than mapping using electrodes, and, as it is less invasive, is likely to be more suitable for long-term studies. It will find application in studies of brain reorganization after skilled learning or after damage to the nervous system resulting from injury or disease.

Motor mapping involves identifying which parts of the motor cortex control the activity of particular body muscles. Traditional experimental approaches to mapping involve stimulation of the brain with surface or embedded electrodes, and monitoring the muscle response in parallel. However, these approaches have disadvantages. They are likely to cause some damage, they are laborious, and they cannot target precise neuronal subtypes.

Timothy Murphy and colleagues use a light-activated ion channel to conduct light-based mapping of the mouse motor cortex. The neurons of mice engineered to express the channel are illuminated with laser light, resulting in neuronal activation without the use of electrodes. To do this, the anaesthetized mice are placed directly on a microscope stage, which can be quickly and precisely moved such that the laser will stimulate hundreds or even thousands of predefined locations in the mouse brain. Simultaneous recording of muscle activity or movement yields reproducible maps of brain regions that control particular muscles.

Author contact:
Timothy Murphy (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada)
Tel: +1 604 822 0705; E-mail:

[4] Geoscience: Relicts of martian ice?
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo438

The enigmatic ‘Meridiani Planum’ deposits on Mars — found by the Opportunity rover — could be remnants of a massive ancient ice-field, according to a study online in Nature Geoscience. Small pockets within the ice, where a thin film of water reacted with atmospheric dust, could have sustained an acidic environment capable of producing the unique chemical composition found in these deposits.

Paul Niles and Joseph Michalski analysed the chemistry, sedimentology and geology of the Meridiani Planum deposits using information obtained by the Mars rover Opportunity. They suggest that sulphate formation and chemical weathering occurring within an ancient ice-field —­ similar in size to the present polar ice caps on Mars — is the best explanation for the observations. Once the ice sublimed away in a warmer climate, the remaining sediments kept their chemical signature.

The region of Meridiani Planum is near the equator and at present cannot sustain large ice-fields. The authors propose that the ice could have formed in ancient times, when the poles were in a different place or when the martian axis of rotation was at a different angle to its present-day orbit around the Sun.

Author contact:
Paul Niles (NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, USA)
Tel: +1 281 961 2127; E-mail:

[5] Genetics: Common variants that regulate blood pressure
DOI: 10.1038/ng.328

The first common genetic variants for blood pressure and hypertension in the general population have been identified, according to a study published online this week in Nature Genetics. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and renal failure, and is a modifiable non-infective cause of morbidity and mortality.

Christopher Newton-Cheh and colleagues carried out a genome wide association of European individuals and found two common variants that affect blood pressure. These variants are located in genes that encode proteins produced by the heart and blood vessels, called natriuretic peptides, because they are known to regulate the process of salt excretion through the urine. Since the discovery that the heart secretes a family of hormones that relaxes blood vessels and promotes the removal of excess salt through the urine in response to increased wall stress, it has been speculated that natriuretic peptides might be involved in blood pressure regulation in humans.

The effect these genetic variants have on blood pressure is significant, comparable to changes that have been suggested previously to be associated with an approximately 8% lower risk of heart disease. Potentially lifelong exposure to changes in blood pressure, as can occur due to differences in genotype, could in turn magnify these effects. Therapeutic agents that chronically activate the natriuretic peptide system are now under development as a useful treatment of hypertension.

Author contact:
Christopher Newton-Cheh (Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 643 3615; E-mail:

[6] Geoscience: Nitrous oxide hot spots
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo434

Subarctic tundra soils, one of the largest land cover types in the world, can release significant quantities of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, according to a study published online in Nature Geoscience. Until now, these treeless soils were considered a negligible source of nitrous oxide.

Pertti Martikainen and colleagues measured nitrous oxide emissions in semi-frozen Eastern European peatlands located below the Arctic Circle. Vegetation-free patches of peat were found to emit quantities of nitrous oxide equivalent to emissions from agricultural and tropical soils, which are considered to be the largest terrestrial sources of nitrous oxide. Extrapolation of their field data to the whole of the Arctic suggests that the global warming potential of these bare peat-patches could amount to 4% of the global warming potential of Arctic methane emissions.

These findings suggest that it will be important to consider the amount of nitrogen stored in subarctic tundra soils when assessing their climatic impact.

Author contact:
Pertti Martikainen (University of Kuopio, Finland)
Tel: +358 40 355 3586; E-mail:

[7] And finally…Once a boggy plant, always a boggy plant?
DOI: 10.1038/nature07764

Millions of years of evolution can’t change a simple fact — once a boggy plant, almost always a boggy plant! A paper in this week’s Nature suggests that plants rarely adapt to new habitats. The results have implications for understanding biological invasions and species survival under global climate change.

Michael Crisp and colleagues analysed the ancestral distribution of more than 11,000 Southern Hemisphere plants constituting 15% of the region’s total flora. Plants were assigned to one or more of seven environments or ‘biomes’, such as bog, alpine and savannah. Over tens of millions of years, only 3.6% of these plants shifted between biomes.

The finding applies across the board, from more ‘modern’ groups like grasses and legumes, to ‘ancient’ Gondwanan plants such as cycads. And while plants diversified rapidly, forming tens of thousands of new species over the last 50 million years, they rarely changed habitat. This suggests that their evolutionary success resulted from habitat expansion as climate changed.

Author contact:
Michael Crisp (The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia)
Tel: +61 2 6125 2882; E-mail:


Items from other Nature journals to be published online at the same time and with the same embargo:

Nature (

[8] Identification of a dendritic cell receptor that couples sensing of necrosis to immunity
DOI: 10.1038/nature07750

[9] c-Myc suppression of miR-23a/b enhances mitochondrial glutaminase expression and glutamine metabolism
DOI: 10.1038/nature07823


[10] Gene silencing by synthetic U1 Adaptors
DOI: 10.1038/nbt.1525


[11] NuMA-related LIN-5, ASPM-1, calmodulin and dynein promote meiotic spindle rotation independently of cortical LIN-5/GPR/Galpha
DOI: 10.1038/ncb1834

[12] Oct1 loss of function induces a coordinate metabolic shift that opposes tumorigenicity
DOI: 10.1038/ncb1840

[13] The yeast global transcriptional co-repressor protein Cyc8 can propagate as a prion
DOI: 10.1038/ncb1843


[14] Analysis of the eukaryotic prenylome by isoprenoid affinity tagging
DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.149


[15] FGF9 monomer–dimer equilibrium regulates extracellular matrix affinity and tissue diffusion
DOI: 10.1038/ng. 316

[16] A TARBP2 mutation in human cancer impairs microRNA processing and DICER1 function
DOI: 10.1038/ng.317

[17] Genome-wide association study identifies a novel breast cancer susceptibility locus at 6q25.1
DOI: 10.1038/ng.318


[18] Rapid oceanic and atmospheric changes during the Younger Dryas cold period
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo439


[19] Giant superconductivity-induced modulation of the ferromagnetic magnetization in a cuprate–manganite superlattice
DOI: 10.1038/nmat2383

[20] Mesoporous germanium-rich chalcogenido frameworks with highly polarizable surfaces and relevance to gas separation
DOI: 10.1038/nmat2381

[21] Room-temperature defect-engineered spin filter based on a non-magnetic semiconductor
DOI: 10.1038/nmat2385

[22] The influence of edge structure on the electronic properties of graphene quantum dots and nanoribbons
DOI: 10.1038/nmat2378


[23] Effector memory T cell responses are associated with protection of rhesus monkeys from mucosal simian immunodeficiency virus challenge
DOI: 10.1038/nm.1935

[24] Sensitive in vivo imaging of T cells using a membrane-bound Gaussia princeps luciferase
DOI: 10.1038/nm.1930


[25] Dynamic patterning programmed by DNA tiles captured on a DNA origami substrate
DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2009.005


[26] Reinforcement learning in populations of spiking neurons
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2264

[27] Role of the synaptic ribbon in transmitting the cone light response
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2267

[28] An anatomic gene expression atlas of the adult mouse brain
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2281


[29] Photonic-chip-based radio-frequency spectrum analyser with terahertz bandwidth
DOI: 10.1038/nphoton.2009.001


[30] Cyanobacterial photosystem II at 2.9-Å resolution and the role of quinones, lipids, channels and chloride
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.1559

[31] Structural basis for G9a-like protein lysine methyltransferase inhibition by BIX-01294
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.1560

[32] The mRNA export protein DBP5 binds RNA and the cytoplasmic nucleoporin NUP214 in a mutually exclusive manner
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.1561

[33] A Mek1–Mek2 heterodimer determines the strength and duration of the Erk signal
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.1564


The following list of places refers to the whereabouts of authors on the papers numbered in this release. The listing may be for an author's main affiliation, or for a place where they are working temporarily. Please see the PDF of the paper for full details.

Brisbane: 7, 14
Camperdown: 1
Canberra: 7, 29
Darlinghurst: 1
Hobart: 7
Randwick: 1
Sydney: 1, 7, 29

Vienna: 33

Sherbrooke: 11
Vancouver: 3

Santiago: 7

Nanjing: 25
Shanghai: 17

Helsinki: 5, 6, 16
Kuopio: 6

Amiens: 19
Marcoussis: 21
Orsay: 4
Talence: 19
Toulouse: 21

Berlin: 30
Bochum: 14
Dortmund: 14
Heidelberg: 1, 32
Hennigsdorf: 5
Mainz: 5
Martinsried: 32
Potsdam: 18
Stuttgart: 19

Crete: 20

Chiba: 15
Kanagawa: 9, 15
Nagoya: 15
Sapporo: 16
Tokyo: 15

Amsterdam: 2
Utrecht: 11

Lincoln: 7

Bergen: 18

Porto: 16

Syktyvkar: 6

Barcelona: 16
Madrid: 16
Murcia: 28

Linkoping: 21
Malmo: 5

Bern: 26
Fribourg: 19
Lausanne: 11
Villigen: 19
Zurich: 7, 18

Cambridge: 5
Belfast: 5
London: 8, 19
Potters Bar: 8


Berkeley: 27, 30
La Jolla: 21
Los Angeles: 1, 28, 33
Pasadena: 28
San Francisco: 1, 27
Stanford: 1

Atlanta: 31

Chicago: 13, 20
Evanston: 20
Urbana: 22

Coralville: 10

Baltimore: 9
Bethesda: 5
Frederick: 23

Boston: 5, 11, 12
Framingham: 5

St Louis: 15

Omaha: 27

New York
Cold Spring Harbor: 28
Ithaca: 7
New York: 24, 25

Cincinnati: 1

Beaverton: 23

University Park: 7

Nashville: 17

Houston: 4, 16
Smithville: 31

Salt Lake City: 12

Seattle: 28


For media inquiries relating to embargo policy for all the Nature Research Journals:

Rachel Twinn (Nature London)
Tel: +44 20 7843 4658; E-mail:

Katherine Anderson (Nature New York)
Tel: +1 212 726 9231; E-mail:

Ruth Francis (Head of Press, Nature, London)
Tel: +44 20 7843 4562; E-mail:

For media inquiries relating to editorial content/policy for the Nature Research Journals, please contact the journals individually:

Nature Biotechnology (New York)
Peter Hare
Tel: +1 212 726 9284; E-mail:

Nature Cell Biology (London)
Bernd Pulverer
Tel: +44 20 7843 4892; E-mail:

Nature Chemical Biology (Boston)
Andrea Garvey
Tel: +1 617 475 9241, E-mail:

Nature Genetics (New York)
Orli Bahcall
Tel: +1 212 726 9311; E-mail:

Nature Geoscience (London)
Heike Langenberg
Tel: +44 20 7843 4042; E-mail:

Nature Immunology (New York)
Laurie Dempsey
Tel: +1 212 726 9372; E-mail:

Nature Materials (London)
Alison Stoddart
Tel: +44 20 7843 4593; E-mail:

Nature Medicine (New York)
Juan Carlos Lopez
Tel: +1 212 726 9325; E-mail:

Nature Methods (New York)
Hugh Ash
Tel: +1 212 726 9627; E-mail:

Nature Nanotechnology (London)
Peter Rodgers
Tel: +44 20 7014 4019; Email:

Nature Neuroscience (New York)
Kalyani Narasimhan
Tel: +1 212 726 9319; E-mail:

Nature Photonics (Tokyo)
Oliver Graydon
Tel: +81 3 3267 8776; E-mail:

Nature Physics (London)
Alison Wright
Tel: +44 20 7843 4555; E-mail:

Nature Structural & Molecular Biology (New York)
Michelle Montoya
Tel: +1 212 726 9326; E-mail:

About Nature Publishing Group (NPG):

Nature Publishing Group is a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd, dedicated to serving the academic and professional scientific and medical communities. NPG’s flagship title, Nature, was first published in 1869. Other publications include Nature research journals, Nature Reviews, Nature Clinical Practice and a range of prestigious academic journals including society-owned publications. NPG also provides news content through Nature News. Scientific career information and free job postings are offered on Naturejobs.

NPG is a global company with principal offices in London, New York and Tokyo and offices in Basingstoke, Boston, Buenos Aires, Delhi, Hong Kong, Madrid, Melbourne, Munich, Paris, San Francisco, Seoul and Washington DC. For more information, please go to

Associated links

Journal information

Nature and Nature Research Journals

Keywords associated to this article: Medicine, Neuroscience, Methods, Geoscience, Genetics, Geoscience
Create Account...