LA JOLLA—Each year in the United States there are more than 3 million cases of peripheral neuropathy, wherein nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord are damaged and cause pain and loss of feeling in the affected areas. Peripheral neuropathy can occur from diabetes, injury, genetically inherited disease, infection, and more. Salk scientists have now uncovered in mice a mechanism for repairing damaged nerves during peripheral neuropathy. They discovered that the protein Mitf helps turn on the repair function of specialized nervous system Schwann cells.
LA JOLLA—Regulatory T cells are specialized immune cells that suppress the immune response and prevent the body from attacking its own cells. Understanding how these cells work is key to determining how they might be manipulated to encourage the destruction of cancer cells or prevent autoimmunity. Cell behavior is influenced by chromatin architecture (the 3D shape of chromosomes) and which genes are accessible to proteins—like Foxp3, which promotes regulatory T cell development.
LA JOLLA—Even for killer T cells—specialized immune cells—seeking and destroying cancer cells around the clock can be exhausting. If scientists can understand why killer T cells become exhausted, then they can create more resilient cancer-killing cells.
LA JOLLA—Pancreatic cancers are among the most aggressive, deadly tumor types and, for years, researchers have struggled to develop effective drugs against the tumors. Now, Salk researchers have identified a new set of molecules that fuel the growth of tumors in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common type of pancreatic cancer.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute welcomes Assistant Professor Agnieszka Kendrick, a structural biologist who studies how cells recognize and transport cargo within the cell.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute welcomes Assistant Professor Daniel Bayless, a neurobiologist who studies the influence of sex hormones on social interaction and behavior in mice. Bayless joins Salk’s world-renowned neuroscience faculty—a collaborative team working to uncover how our brains work so we can build resilience in the face of stress, aging, and disease.
LA JOLLA—The immune system protects the body from invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, or tumors, with its intricate network of proteins, cells, and organs. Specialized immune cells, called cytotoxic T cells, can develop into short-lived effector cells that kill infected or cancerous cells within our bodies. A small portion of those effector cells remain after an infection and become longer-lived memory cells, which “remember” infections and respond when infections reappear. But little was known about what influences cytotoxic T cells to transform into these effector and memory T cell subtypes.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute and Autobahn Labs, an early-stage drug discovery incubator, will work together to identify and advance promising initial scientific discoveries through the preliminary steps of drug discovery and development. Autobahn Labs will invest up to $5 million per project for Salk discoveries that require access to drug development expertise and state-of-the art capabilities.
LA JOLLA—Five Salk Institute faculty members have been promoted for their notable, innovative contributions to science. These faculty members have demonstrated leadership in their disciplines, pushing the boundaries of basic scientific research. Assistant Professors Sung Han, Dmitry Lyumkis, and Graham McVicker were promoted to associate professors, and Associate Professors Sreekanth Chalasani and Ye Zheng were promoted to professors. The promotions were based on Salk faculty and nonresident fellow recommendations and approved by Salk’s president and Board of Trustees on April 21, 2023.
LA JOLLA—Understanding how HIV replicates within cells is key for developing new therapies that could help nearly 40 million people living with HIV globally. Now, a team of scientists from the Salk Institute and Rutgers University have for the first time determined the molecular structure of HIV Pol, a protein that plays a key role in the late stages of HIV replication, or the process through which the virus propagates itself and spreads through the body. Importantly, determining the molecule’s structure helps answer longstanding questions about how the protein breaks itself apart to advance the replication process. The discovery, published in Science Advances on July 6, 2022, reveals a new vulnerability in the virus that could be targeted with drugs.
LA JOLLA–Whether it’s making rash decisions or feeling grumpy, hunger can make us think and act differently—“hangry,” even. But little is known about how hunger signals in the gut communicate with the brain to change behavior. Now, Salk scientists are using worms as a model to examine the molecular underpinnings and help explain how hunger makes an organism sacrifice comfort and make risky decisions to get a meal.
LA JOLLA—Salk Professors Joanne Chory, Joseph Ecker, Rusty Gage, Satchidananda Panda, Reuben Shaw and Kay Tye have been named to the Highly Cited Researchers list by Clarivate. The list identifies researchers who demonstrate “significant influence in their chosen field or fields through the publication of multiple highly cited papers.” Chory, Ecker and Gage have been named to this list every year since 2014, when the regular annual rankings began. This is Tye’s fifth, Shaw’s third and Panda’s first time receiving the designation. Additionally, Ecker appeared in two separate categories: “plant and animal science” and “molecular biology and genetics” and is one of 3.4 percent of researchers selected in two fields. Joseph Nery, a research assistant II in the Ecker lab, was also included on the list.
LA JOLLA—In structural biology, some molecules are so unusual they can only be captured with a unique set of tools. That’s precisely how a multi-institutional research team led by Salk scientists defined how antibodies can recognize a compound called phosphohistidine—a highly unstable molecule that has been found to play a central role in some forms of cancer, such as liver and breast cancer and neuroblastoma.
LA JOLLA—As the tools to study biology improve, researchers are beginning to uncover details into microproteins, small components that appear to be key to some cellular processes, including those involved with cancer. Proteins are made up of chains of linked amino acids and the average human protein contains around 300 amino acids. Meanwhile, microproteins have fewer than 100 amino acids.
LA JOLLA—When you see brown spots on otherwise healthy green leaves, you may be witnessing a plant’s immune response as it tries to keep a bacterial infection from spreading. Some plants are more resistant to such infections than others, and plant biologists want to understand why. Salk Institute scientists studying a plant protein called SOBER1 recently discovered one mechanism by which, counterintuitively, plants seem to render themselves less resistant to infection.
LA JOLLA—In the bustling setting of the cell, proteins encounter each other by the thousands. Despite the hubbub, each one manages to selectively interact with just the right partners, thanks to specific contact regions on its surface that are still far more mysterious than might be expected, given decades of research into protein structure and function.
LA JOLLA—The conventional way of placing protein samples under an electron microscope during cryo-EM experiments may fall flat when it comes to getting the best picture of a protein’s structure. In some cases, tilting a sheet of frozen proteins—by anywhere from 10 to 50 degrees—as it lies under the microscope, gives higher quality data and could lead to a better understanding of a variety of diseases, according to new research led by Salk scientist Dmitry Lyumkis.
LA JOLLA—We all know how hard it is to find something small like a dropped contact lens that blends into the background. It’s similarly tough for biologists to find tiny proteins against the complex background of the cell. But, increasingly, scientists are learning that such microproteins, which are overlooked by traditional detection methods, also have important biological roles to play.
LA JOLLA—A team led by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has discovered two enzymes that appear to play a role in metabolism and inflammation—and might someday be targeted with drugs to treat type 2 diabetes and inflammatory disorders.