Research Briefs

Dec 20, 2017, 09:08 AM by Donna Ramirez
Frequent alcohol consumption kills new brain cells in adults, with females being more vulnerable, according to new research at UTMB. Led by Dr. Ping Wu, professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology, the researchers discovered that alcohol killed the stem cells in adult mouse brains. Because brain stem cells are responsible for creating new nerve cells and are important to maintaining normal cognitive function, this study could open a door to combating chronic alcoholism. The research also showed that brain changes due to alcohol exposure are different for females and males. For the study, Wu and her colleagues used a cutting-edge technique that allows them to tag brain stem cells and observe how they migrate and develop into specialized nerve cells over time. This allowed researchers to study the impact of long-term alcohol consumption on the cells. Using this model, scientists expect to learn more about how alcohol interacts with brain stem cells, which will ultimately lead to a clearer understanding of how best to treat and cure alcoholism. Other authors include UTMB’s Dr. Erica McGrath, Junling Gao, Dr. Yong Fang Kuo, Tiffany Dunn, Moniqua Ray, Dr. Kelly Dineley, Dr. Kathryn Cunningham and Dr. Bhupendra Kaphalia. The findings are now available in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

EbolaUTMB scientists have gained new insight into how the Ebola virus uses the body’s natural defenses to speed the rate of infection and unleash its lethal disease, according to a new report in mBIO. When someone is infected with the Ebola virus, part of the reason that the resulting disease is so severe is because the virus causes parts of the immune system to malfunction. T-cells, which are a specialized type of white blood cells that seek and destroy virus-infected cells, are particularly vulnerable to the Ebola virus. “In this study, we demonstrated the central role of a T-cell protein called Tim-1 in the development of Ebola virus disease,” said senior author Dr. Alexander Bukreyev, a UTMB virologist in the departments of Pathology and Microbiology and Immunology. “Mice that were genetically engineered without Tim-1 became less ill when infected with Ebola virus and only one died, whereas all of the unmodified mice succumbed.” A series of biological analyses showed that Ebola virus directly binds to T-cells through Tim-1 protein binding and causes massive inflammation that thwarts the immune system. The severity of inflammatory immune reaction is consistently linked with the intensity of the disease and risk of death from Ebola. “If we can find a way to limit the inflammatory response during Ebola infection, we can potentially improve disease outcome,” said lead author Dr. Patrick Younan, a UTMB research scientist. Dr. Mathieu Lampietro, co-lead author of the paper, added, “Controlling and successfully balancing the immune response after Ebola virus infection is very important for reducing symptoms and fatal outcomes.” Other study authors include UTMB Drs. Palaniappan Ramanathan, Rodrigo Santos and Ndongala Michel Lubaki.

NeedleFor the first time, a collaborative team led by UTMB has shown that a potential Zika vaccine quickly can protect fetuses against infection as well as protect males against testicular infection and injury. “This study showed, for the first time, that a single-dose vaccine candidate could prevent Zika infection in non-human primates, block mother-to-fetus transmission, and stop male testis infection in mice,” said UTMB’s Dr. Pei-Yong Shi, senior author and the I.H. Kempner professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “Besides quickly mounting a protective immune response, this live-attenuated vaccine exhibited an excellent safety profile in both mouse and non-human primate models. Taken together, the results suggest that this vaccine merits further development in humans.” Having a single-dose vaccine against Zika is practically important, as vaccines that require booster shots are challenging for people living in developing regions where access to medical facilities may be limited. Other authors include UTMB’s Dr. Xuping Xie, Jannyce Nunes, Dr. Alan Barrett, Dr. Scott Weaver and Dr. Shannan Rossi. The findings are currently available in Nature Communications.

Compiled from press releases written by Donna Ramirez. Find out more at