Rohit Manchanda, Ph.D.
Professor, Biomedical Engineering Group, IIT-Bombay, India
Modelling the syncytial organization and neural control of smooth muscle: insights into autonomic physiology and pharmacology
We have been studying computationally the syncytial organization and neural control of smooth muscle in order to help explain certain puzzling findings thrown up by experimental work. This relates in particular to electrical signals generated in smooth muscles, such as synaptic potentials and spikes, and how these are explicable only if three-dimensional syncytial biophysics are taken fully into account. In this talk, I shall provide an illustration of outcomes and insights gleaned from such an approach. I shall first describe our work on the mammalian vas deferens, in which an analysis of the effects of syncytial coupling led us to conclude that the experimental effects of a presumptive gap junction uncoupler, heptanol, on synaptic potentials were incompatible with gap junctional block and could best be explained by a heptanol-induced inhibition of neurotransmitter release, thus compelling a reinterpretation of the mechanism of action of this agent. I shall outline the various lines of evidence, based on indices of syncytial function, that we adduced in order to reach this conclusion. We have now moved on to our current focus on urinary bladder biophysics, where the questions we aim to address are to do with mechanisms of spike generation. Smooth muscle cells in the bladder exhibit spontaneous spiking and spikes occur in a variety of distinct shapes, making their generation problematic to explain. We believe that the variety in shapes may owe less to intrinsic differences in spike mechanism (i.e., in the complement of ion channels participating in spike production) and more to features imposed by syncytial biophysics. We focus especially on the modulation of spike shape in a 3-D coupled network by such factors as innervation pattern, propagation in a syncytium, electrically finite bundles within and between which the spikes spread, and some degree of pacemaker activity by a sub-population of the cells. I shall report two streams of work that we have done, and the tentative conclusions these have enabled us to reach: (a) using the NEURON environment, to construct the smooth muscle syncytium and endow it with synaptic drive, and (b) using signal-processing approaches, towards sorting and classifying the experimentally recorded spikes.
Andrey Panteleyev, Ph.D.
Vice Chair, Division of Molecular Biology, NBICS Centre-Kurchatov Institute, Moscow, Russia
The system of PAS proteins (HIF and AhR) as an interface between environment and skin homeostasis
Regulation of normal skin functions as well as etiology of many skin diseases are both tightly linked to the environmental impact. Nevertheless, molecular aspects of skin-environment communication and mechanisms coordinating skin response to a plurality of environmental stressors remain poorly understood.
Our studies along with the work of other groups have identified the family of PAS dimeric transcription factors as an essential sensory and regulatory component of communication between skin and the environment. This protein family comprises a number of hypoxia-induced factors (HIF-alpha proteins), aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), AhR nuclear translocator (ARNT), and several proteins implicated in control of rhythmic processes (Clock, Period, and Bmal proteins). Together, various PAS proteins (and first of all ARNT – as the central dimerization partner in the family) control such pivotal aspects of cell physiology as drug/xenobiotic metabolism, hypoxic and UV light response, ROS activity, pathogen defense, overall energy balance and breathing pathways.
In his presentation Dr. Panteleyev will focus on the role of ARNT activity and local hypoxia in control of keratinocyte differentiation and cornification. His recent work revealed that ARNT negatively regulates expression of late differentiation genes through modulation of amphiregulin expression and downstream alterations in activity of EGFR pathway. All these effects are highly dependent on epigenetic mechanisms such as histone deacetylation. Characterisation of hypoxia as a key microenvironmental factor in the skin and the role of HIF pathway in control of dermal vasculature and epidermal functions is another major focus of Dr. Panteleyev’s presentation.
In general, the studies of Dr. Panteleyev’s laboratory provide an insight into the PAS-dependent maintenance of skin homeostasis and point to the potential role of these proteins in pathogenesis of environmentally-modulated skin diseases such as barrier defects, desquamation abnormalities, psoriasis, etc.