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Hypothalamic pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons promote satiety. Cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1R) is critical for the central regulation of food intake. Here we test whether CB1R-controlled feeding in sated mice is paralleled by decreased activity of POMC neurons. We show that chemical promotion of CB1R activity increases feeding, and notably, CB1R activation also promotes neuronal activity of POMC cells. This paradoxical increase in POMC activity was crucial for CB1R-induced feeding, because designer-receptors-exclusively-activated-by-designer-drugs (DREADD)-mediated inhibition of POMC neurons diminishes, whereas DREADD-mediated activation of POMC neurons enhances CB1R-driven feeding. The Pomc gene encodes both the anorexigenic peptide α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone, and the opioid peptide β-endorphin. CB1R activation selectively increases β-endorphin but not α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone release in the hypothalamus, and systemic or hypothalamic administration of the opioid receptor antagonist naloxone blocks acute CB1R-induced feeding. These processes involve mitochondrial adaptations that, when blocked, abolish CB1R-induced cellular responses and feeding. Together, these results uncover a previously unsuspected role of POMC neurons in the promotion of feeding by cannabinoids.

Concepts: Receptor, Opioid, Receptor antagonist, Opioid receptor, Cannabinoid receptor, Dopamine, Buprenorphine, Proopiomelanocortin


The higher risk of death resulting from excess adiposity may be attenuated by physical activity (PA). However, the theoretical number of deaths reduced by eliminating physical inactivity compared with overall and abdominal obesity remains unclear.

Concepts: Oncology, Nutrition, Death, Obesity, Overweight, Weight loss, Metabolic syndrome, Abdomen


The theory of reinforcement learning provides a normative account, deeply rooted in psychological and neuroscientific perspectives on animal behaviour, of how agents may optimize their control of an environment. To use reinforcement learning successfully in situations approaching real-world complexity, however, agents are confronted with a difficult task: they must derive efficient representations of the environment from high-dimensional sensory inputs, and use these to generalize past experience to new situations. Remarkably, humans and other animals seem to solve this problem through a harmonious combination of reinforcement learning and hierarchical sensory processing systems, the former evidenced by a wealth of neural data revealing notable parallels between the phasic signals emitted by dopaminergic neurons and temporal difference reinforcement learning algorithms. While reinforcement learning agents have achieved some successes in a variety of domains, their applicability has previously been limited to domains in which useful features can be handcrafted, or to domains with fully observed, low-dimensional state spaces. Here we use recent advances in training deep neural networks to develop a novel artificial agent, termed a deep Q-network, that can learn successful policies directly from high-dimensional sensory inputs using end-to-end reinforcement learning. We tested this agent on the challenging domain of classic Atari 2600 games. We demonstrate that the deep Q-network agent, receiving only the pixels and the game score as inputs, was able to surpass the performance of all previous algorithms and achieve a level comparable to that of a professional human games tester across a set of 49 games, using the same algorithm, network architecture and hyperparameters. This work bridges the divide between high-dimensional sensory inputs and actions, resulting in the first artificial agent that is capable of learning to excel at a diverse array of challenging tasks.

Concepts: Psychology, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Learning, Neural network, Dopamine, Reinforcement learning, Atari 2600


Long-term in vivo expression of a broad and potent entry inhibitor could circumvent the need for a conventional vaccine for HIV-1. Adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors can stably express HIV-1 broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs). However, even the best bNAbs neutralize 10-50% of HIV-1 isolates inefficiently (80% inhibitory concentration (IC80) > 5 μg ml(-1)), suggesting that high concentrations of these antibodies would be necessary to achieve general protection. Here we show that eCD4-Ig, a fusion of CD4-Ig with a small CCR5-mimetic sulfopeptide, binds avidly and cooperatively to the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein (Env) and is more potent than the best bNAbs (geometric mean half-maximum inhibitory concentration (IC50) < 0.05 μg ml(-1)). Because eCD4-Ig binds only conserved regions of Env, it is also much broader than any bNAb. For example, eCD4-Ig efficiently neutralized 100% of a diverse panel of neutralization-resistant HIV-1, HIV-2 and simian immunodeficiency virus isolates, including a comprehensive set of isolates resistant to the CD4-binding site bNAbs VRC01, NIH45-46 and 3BNC117. Rhesus macaques inoculated with an AAV vector stably expressed 17-77 μg ml(-1) of fully functional rhesus eCD4-Ig for more than 40 weeks, and these macaques were protected from several infectious challenges with SHIV-AD8. Rhesus eCD4-Ig was also markedly less immunogenic than rhesus forms of four well-characterized bNAbs. Our data suggest that AAV-delivered eCD4-Ig can function like an effective HIV-1 vaccine.

Concepts: HIV, Immune system, Microbiology, Macaque, Primate, Rhesus Macaque, Adeno-associated virus, Neutralization


The intestinal tract is inhabited by a large and diverse community of microbes collectively referred to as the gut microbiota. While the gut microbiota provides important benefits to its host, especially in metabolism and immune development, disturbance of the microbiota-host relationship is associated with numerous chronic inflammatory diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease and the group of obesity-associated diseases collectively referred to as metabolic syndrome. A primary means by which the intestine is protected from its microbiota is via multi-layered mucus structures that cover the intestinal surface, thereby allowing the vast majority of gut bacteria to be kept at a safe distance from epithelial cells that line the intestine. Thus, agents that disrupt mucus-bacterial interactions might have the potential to promote diseases associated with gut inflammation. Consequently, it has been hypothesized that emulsifiers, detergent-like molecules that are a ubiquitous component of processed foods and that can increase bacterial translocation across epithelia in vitro, might be promoting the increase in inflammatory bowel disease observed since the mid-twentieth century. Here we report that, in mice, relatively low concentrations of two commonly used emulsifiers, namely carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80, induced low-grade inflammation and obesity/metabolic syndrome in wild-type hosts and promoted robust colitis in mice predisposed to this disorder. Emulsifier-induced metabolic syndrome was associated with microbiota encroachment, altered species composition and increased pro-inflammatory potential. Use of germ-free mice and faecal transplants indicated that such changes in microbiota were necessary and sufficient for both low-grade inflammation and metabolic syndrome. These results support the emerging concept that perturbed host-microbiota interactions resulting in low-grade inflammation can promote adiposity and its associated metabolic effects. Moreover, they suggest that the broad use of emulsifying agents might be contributing to an increased societal incidence of obesity/metabolic syndrome and other chronic inflammatory diseases.

Concepts: Immune system, Inflammation, Bacteria, Gut flora, Nutrition, Ulcerative colitis, Gastroenterology, Inflammatory bowel disease


So far, roughly 40 quasars with redshifts greater than z = 6 have been discovered. Each quasar contains a black hole with a mass of about one billion solar masses (10(9) ). The existence of such black holes when the Universe was less than one billion years old presents substantial challenges to theories of the formation and growth of black holes and the coevolution of black holes and galaxies. Here we report the discovery of an ultraluminous quasar, SDSS J010013.02+280225.8, at redshift z = 6.30. It has an optical and near-infrared luminosity a few times greater than those of previously known z > 6 quasars. On the basis of the deep absorption trough on the blue side of the Lyman-α emission line in the spectrum, we estimate the proper size of the ionized proximity zone associated with the quasar to be about 26 million light years, larger than found with other z > 6.1 quasars with lower luminosities. We estimate (on the basis of a near-infrared spectrum) that the black hole has a mass of ∼1.2 × 10(10) , which is consistent with the 1.3 × 10(10) derived by assuming an Eddington-limited accretion rate.

Concepts: Galaxy, Big Bang, Redshift, General relativity, Mass, Universe, Quasar, Gravitational lens


The Black Death, originating in Asia, arrived in the Mediterranean harbors of Europe in 1347 CE, via the land and sea trade routes of the ancient Silk Road system. This epidemic marked the start of the second plague pandemic, which lasted in Europe until the early 19th century. This pandemic is generally understood as the consequence of a singular introduction of Yersinia pestis, after which the disease established itself in European rodents over four centuries. To locate these putative plague reservoirs, we studied the climate fluctuations that preceded regional plague epidemics, based on a dataset of 7,711 georeferenced historical plague outbreaks and 15 annually resolved tree-ring records from Europe and Asia. We provide evidence for repeated climate-driven reintroductions of the bacterium into European harbors from reservoirs in Asia, with a delay of 15 ± 1 y. Our analysis finds no support for the existence of permanent plague reservoirs in medieval Europe.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Middle Ages, Europe, Pandemic, Italy, Yersinia pestis, Black Death, Silk Road


The climatic impact of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is usually quantified in terms of radiative forcing, calculated as the difference between estimates of the Earth’s radiation field from pre-industrial and present-day concentrations of these gases. Radiative transfer models calculate that the increase in CO2 since 1750 corresponds to a global annual-mean radiative forcing at the tropopause of 1.82 ± 0.19 W m(-2) (ref. 2). However, despite widespread scientific discussion and modelling of the climate impacts of well-mixed greenhouse gases, there is little direct observational evidence of the radiative impact of increasing atmospheric CO2. Here we present observationally based evidence of clear-sky CO2 surface radiative forcing that is directly attributable to the increase, between 2000 and 2010, of 22 parts per million atmospheric CO2. The time series of this forcing at the two locations-the Southern Great Plains and the North Slope of Alaska-are derived from Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer spectra together with ancillary measurements and thoroughly corroborated radiative transfer calculations. The time series both show statistically significant trends of 0.2 W m(-2) per decade (with respective uncertainties of ±0.06 W m(-2) per decade and ±0.07 W m(-2) per decade) and have seasonal ranges of 0.1-0.2 W m(-2). This is approximately ten per cent of the trend in downwelling longwave radiation. These results confirm theoretical predictions of the atmospheric greenhouse effect due to anthropogenic emissions, and provide empirical evidence of how rising CO2 levels, mediated by temporal variations due to photosynthesis and respiration, are affecting the surface energy balance.

Concepts: Scientific method, Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Earth, Climate change, Atmosphere, Greenhouse gas, Greenhouse effect


Before the Syrian uprising that began in 2011, the greater Fertile Crescent experienced the most severe drought in the instrumental record. For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest. We show that the recent decrease in Syrian precipitation is a combination of natural variability and a long-term drying trend, and the unusual severity of the observed drought is here shown to be highly unlikely without this trend. Precipitation changes in Syria are linked to rising mean sea-level pressure in the Eastern Mediterranean, which also shows a long-term trend. There has been also a long-term warming trend in the Eastern Mediterranean, adding to the drawdown of soil moisture. No natural cause is apparent for these trends, whereas the observed drying and warming are consistent with model studies of the response to increases in greenhouse gases. Furthermore, model studies show an increasingly drier and hotter future mean climate for the Eastern Mediterranean. Analyses of observations and model simulations indicate that a drought of the severity and duration of the recent Syrian drought, which is implicated in the current conflict, has become more than twice as likely as a consequence of human interference in the climate system.

Concepts: Climate change, Atmospheric pressure, Jordan, Fertile Crescent, Lebanon, Iraq, Levant, Syria


Corneal blindness afflicts millions of individuals worldwide and is currently treated by grafting with cadaveric tissues; however, there are worldwide donor tissue shortages, and many allogeneic grafts are eventually rejected. Autologous stem cells present a prospect for personalized regenerative medicine and an alternative to cadaveric tissue grafts. Dental pulp contains a population of adult stem cells and, similar to corneal stroma, develops embryonically from the cranial neural crest. We report that adult dental pulp cells (DPCs) isolated from third molars have the capability to differentiate into keratocytes, cells of the corneal stoma. After inducing differentiation in vitro, DPCs expressed molecules characteristic of keratocytes, keratocan, and keratan sulfate proteoglycans at both the gene and the protein levels. DPCs cultured on aligned nanofiber substrates generated tissue-engineered, corneal stromal-like constructs, recapitulating the tightly packed, aligned, parallel fibrillar collagen of native stromal tissue. After injection in vivo into mouse corneal stroma, human DPCs produced corneal stromal extracellular matrix containing human type I collagen and keratocan and did not affect corneal transparency or induce immunological rejection. These findings demonstrate a potential for the clinical application of DPCs in cellular or tissue engineering therapies for corneal stromal blindness.

Concepts: Collagen, Extracellular matrix, Developmental biology, Stem cell, Cellular differentiation, Cornea, Tissue, Keratan sulfate