Insight
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Publications in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America by NOMIS researchers

Forms of both simple and complex machine intelligence are increasingly acting within human groups in order to affect collective outcomes. Considering the nature of collective action problems, however, such involvement could paradoxically and unintentionally suppress existing beneficial social norms in humans, such as those involving cooperation. Here, we test theoretical predictions about such an effect using a unique cyber-physical lab experiment where online participants (N = 300 in 150 dyads) drive robotic vehicles remotely in a coordination game. We show that autobraking assistance increases human altruism, such as giving way to others, and that communication helps people to make mutual concessions. On the other hand, autosteering assistance completely inhibits the emergence of reciprocity between people in favor of self-interest maximization. The negative social repercussions persist even after the assistance system is deactivated. Furthermore, adding communication capabilities does not relieve this inhibition of reciprocity because people rarely communicate in the presence of autosteering assistance. Our findings suggest that active safety assistance (a form of simple AI support) can alter the dynamics of social coordination between people, including by affecting the trade-off between individual safety and social reciprocity. The difference between autobraking and autosteering assistance appears to relate to whether the assistive technology supports or replaces human agency in social coordination dilemmas. Humans have developed norms of reciprocity to address collective challenges, but such tacit understandings could break down in situations where machine intelligence is involved in human decision-making without having any normative commitments.

Research field(s)
Experimental Psychology

Foraging theory prescribes when optimal foragers should leave the current option for more rewarding alternatives. Actual foragers often exploit options longer than prescribed by the theory, but it is unclear how this foraging suboptimality arises. We investigated whether the upregulation of cholinergic, noradrenergic, and dopaminergic systems increases foraging optimality. In a double-blind, between-subject design, participants (N = 160) received placebo, the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist nicotine, a noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor reboxetine, or a preferential dopamine reuptake inhibitor methylphenidate, and played the role of a farmer who collected milk from patches with different yield. Across all groups, participants on average overharvested. While methylphenidate had no effects on this bias, nicotine, and to some extent also reboxetine, significantly reduced deviation from foraging optimality, which resulted in better performance compared to placebo. Concurring with amplified goal-directedness and excluding heuristic explanations, nicotine independently also improved trial initiation and time perception. Our findings elucidate the neurochemical basis of behavioral flexibility and decision optimality and open unique perspectives on psychiatric disorders affecting these functions. Copyright © 2023 the Author(s).

Research field(s)
Health Sciences

Molecular classification of gastric cancer (GC) identified a subgroup of patients showing chemoresistance and poor prognosis, termed SEM (Stem-like/Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition/Mesenchymal) type in this study. Here, we show that SEM-type GC exhibits a distinct metabolic profile characterized by high glutaminase (GLS) levels. Unexpectedly, SEM-type GC cells are resistant to glutaminolysis inhibition. We show that under glutamine starvation, SEM-type GC cells up-regulate the 3 phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase (PHGDH)-mediated mitochondrial folate cycle pathway to produce NADPH as a reactive oxygen species scavenger for survival. This metabolic plasticity is associated with globally open chromatin structure in SEM-type GC cells, with ATF4/CEBPB identified as transcriptional drivers of the PHGDH-driven salvage pathway. Single-nucleus transcriptome analysis of patient-derived SEM-type GC organoids revealed intratumoral heterogeneity, with stemness-high subpopulations displaying high GLS expression, a resistance to GLS inhibition, and ATF4/CEBPB activation. Notably, coinhibition of GLS and PHGDH successfully eliminated stemness-high cancer cells. Together, these results provide insight into the metabolic plasticity of aggressive GC cells and suggest a treatment strategy for chemoresistant GC patients. Copyright © 2023 the Author(s). Published by PNAS. This article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND).

Research field(s)
Health Sciences, Biomedical Research, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Logged and structurally degraded tropical forests are fast becoming one of the most prevalent land-use types throughout the tropics and are routinely assumed to be a net carbon sink because they experience rapid rates of tree regrowth. Yet this assumption is based on forest biomass inventories that record carbon stock recovery but fail to account for the simultaneous losses of carbon from soil and necromass. Here, we used forest plots and an eddy covariance tower to quantify and partition net ecosystem CO2 exchange in Malaysian Borneo, a region that is a hot spot for deforestation and forest degradation. Our data represent the complete carbon budget for tropical forests measured throughout a logging event and subsequent recovery and found that they constitute a substantial and persistent net carbon source. Consistent with existing literature, our study showed a significantly greater woody biomass gain across moderately and heavily logged forests compared with unlogged forests, but this was counteracted by much larger carbon losses from soil organic matter and deadwood in logged forests. We estimate an average carbon source of 1.75 ± 0.94 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 within moderately logged plots and 5.23 ± 1.23 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 in unsustainably logged and severely degraded plots, with emissions continuing at these rates for at least one-decade post-logging. Our data directly contradict the default assumption that recovering logged and degraded tropical forests are net carbon sinks, implying the amount of carbon being sequestered across the world’s tropical forests may be considerably lower than currently estimated. Copyright © 2023 the Author(s).

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

The pleiotropic actions of the Farnesoid X Receptor (FXR) are required for gut health, and reciprocally, reduced intestinal FXR signaling is seen in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs). Here, we show that activation of FXR selectively in the intestine is protective in inflammation-driven models of IBD. Prophylactic activation of FXR restored homeostatic levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, most notably IL17. Importantly, these changes were attributed to FXR regulation of innate lymphoid cells (ILCs), with both the inflammation-driven increases in ILCs, and ILC3s in particular, and the induction of Il17a and Il17f in ILC3s blocked by FXR activation. Moreover, a population of ILC precursor-like cells increased with treatment, implicating FXR in the maturation/ differentiation of ILC precursors. These findings identify FXR as an intrinsic regulator of intestinal ILCs and a potential therapeutic target in inflammatory intestinal diseases.

Research field(s)
Health Sciences, Clinical Medicine, Immunology

Macromolecular phase separation is thought to be one of the processes that drives the formation of membraneless biomolecular condensates in cells. The dynamics of phase separation are thought to follow the tenets of classical nucleation theory, and, therefore, subsaturated solutions should be devoid of clusters with more than a few molecules. We tested this prediction using in vitro biophysical studies to characterize subsaturated solutions of phase-separating RNA-binding proteins with intrinsically disordered prion-like domains and RNA-binding domains. Surprisingly, and in direct contradiction to expectations from classical nucleation theory, we find that subsaturated solutions are characterized by the presence of heterogeneous distributions of clusters. The distributions of cluster sizes, which are dominated by small species, shift continuously toward larger sizes as protein concentrations increase and approach the saturation concentration. As a result, many of the clusters encompass tens to hundreds of molecules, while less than 1% of the solutions are mesoscale species that are several hundred nanometers in diameter. We find that cluster formation in subsaturated solutions and phase separation in supersaturated solutions are strongly coupled via sequence-encoded interactions. We also find that cluster formation and phase separation can be decoupled using solutes as well as specific sets of mutations. Our findings, which are concordant with predictions for associative polymers, implicate an interplay between networks of sequence-specific and solubility-determining interactions that, respectively, govern cluster formation in subsaturated solutions and the saturation concentrations above which phase separation occurs.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Physics & Astronomy, Chemical Physics

The sensation of internal bodily signals, such as when your stomach is contracting or your heart is beating, plays a critical role in broad biological and psychological functions ranging from homeostasis to emotional experience and self-awareness. The evolutionary origins of this capacity and, thus, the extent to which it is present in nonhuman animals remain unclear. Here, we show that rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) spend significantly more time viewing stimuli presented asynchronously, as compared to synchronously, with their heartbeats. This is consistent with evidence previously shown in human infants using a nearly identical experimental paradigm, suggesting that rhesus monkeys have a human-like capacity to integrate interoceptive signals from the heart with exteroceptive audiovisual information. As no prior work has demonstrated behavioral evidence of innate cardiac interoceptive ability in nonhuman animals, these results have important implications for our understanding of the evolution of this ability and for establishing rhesus monkeys as an animal model for human interoceptive function and dysfunction.We anticipate that this work may also provide an important model for future psychiatric research, as disordered interoceptive processing is implicated in a wide variety of psychiatric conditions.

Research field(s)
Health Sciences, Psychology & Cognitive Sciences, Experimental Psychology

Biomolecular condensates provide distinct compartments that can localize and organize biochemistry inside cells. Recent evidence suggests that condensate formation is prevalent in the cell nucleus. To understand how different components of the nucleus interact during condensate formation is an important challenge. In particular, the physics of co-condensation of proteins together with nucleic acids remains elusive. Here we use optical tweezers to study how the prototypical prion-like protein Fused-in-Sarcoma (FUS) forms liquid-like assemblies in vitro, by co-condensing together with individual DNA molecules. Through progressive forceinduced peeling of dsDNA, buffer exchange, and force measurements, we show that FUS adsorbing in a single layer on DNA effectively generates a sticky FUS-DNA polymer that can collapse to form a liquid-like FUS-DNA co-condensate. Condensation occurs at constant DNA tension for double-stranded DNA, which is a signature of phase separation. We suggest that co-condensation mediated by protein monolayer adsorption on nucleic acids is an important mechanism for intracellular compartmentalization.

Research field(s)
Health Sciences, Biomedical Research, Developmental Biology

An increased incidence of chilblains has been observed during the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic and attributed to viral infection. Direct evidence of this relationship has been limited, however, as most cases do not have molecular evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection with PCR or antibodies. We enrolled a cohort of 23 patients who were diagnosed and managed as having SARS-CoV-2–associated skin eruptions (including 21 pandemic chilblains [PC]) during the first wave of the pandemic in Connecticut. Antibody responses were determined through endpoint titration enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and serum epitope repertoire analysis. T cell responses to SARSCoV-2 were assessed by T cell receptor sequencing and in vitro SARS-CoV-2 antigen-specific peptide stimulation assays. Immunohistochemical and PCR studies of PC biopsies and tissue microarrays for evidence of SARS-CoV-2 were performed. Among patients diagnosed and managed as “covid toes” during the pandemic, we find a percentage of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (9.5%) that approximates background seroprevalence (8.5%) at the time. Immunohistochemistry studies suggest that SARS-CoV-2 staining in PC biopsies may not be from SARS-CoV-2. Our results do not support SARS-CoV-2 as the causative agent of pandemic chilblains; however, our study does not exclude the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 seronegative abortive infections.

Research field(s)
Health Sciences, Clinical Medicine, Dermatology & Venereal Diseases

The misfolding and aggregation of the human prion protein (PrP) is associated with transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Intermediate conformations forming during the conversion of the cellular form of PrP into its pathological scrapie conformation are key drivers of the misfolding process. Here, we analyzed the properties of the C-terminal domain of the human PrP (huPrP) and its T183A variant, which is associated with familial forms of TSEs. We show that the mutation significantly enhances the aggregation propensity of huPrP, such as to uniquely induce amyloid formation under physiological conditions by the sole C-terminal domain of the protein. Using NMR spectroscopy, biophysics, and metadynamics simulations, we identified the structural characteristics of the misfolded intermediate promoting the aggregation of T183A huPrP and the nature of the interactions that prevent this species to be populated in the wild-type protein. In support of these conclusions, POM antibodies targeting the regions that promote PrP misfolding were shown to potently suppress the aggregation of this amyloidogenic mutant.

Research field(s)
Health Sciences, Biomedical Research, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

In macrophages, homeostatic and immune signals induce distinct sets of transcriptional responses, defining cellular identity and functional states. The activity of lineage-specific and signal-induced transcription factors are regulated by chromatin accessibility and other epigenetic modulators. Glucocorticoids are potent antiinflammatory drugs; however, the mechanisms by which they selectively attenuate inflammatory genes are not yet understood. Acting through the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), glucocorticoids directly repress inflammatory responses at transcriptional and epigenetic levels in macrophages. A major unanswered question relates to the sequence of events that result in the formation of repressive regions. In this study, we identify bromodomain containing 9 (BRD9), a component of SWI/SNF chromatin remodeling complex, as a modulator of glucocorticoid responses in macrophages. Inhibition, degradation, or genetic depletion of BRD9 in bone marrow-derived macrophages significantly attenuated their responses to both liposaccharides and interferon inflammatory stimuli. Notably, BRD9-regulated genes extensively overlap with those regulated by the synthetic glucocorticoid dexamethasone. Pharmacologic inhibition of BRD9 potentiated the antiinflammatory responses of dexamethasone, while the genetic deletion of BRD9 in macrophages reduced high-fat diet-induced adipose inflammation. Mechanistically, BRD9 colocalized at a subset of GR genomic binding sites, and depletion of BRD9 enhanced GR occupancy primarily at inflammatory-related genes to potentiate GR-induced repression. Collectively, these findings establish BRD9 as a genomic antagonist of GR at inflammatory-related genes in macrophages, and reveal a potential for BRD9 inhibitors to increase the therapeutic efficacies of glucocorticoids.

Research field(s)
Health Sciences, Biomedical Research, Developmental Biology

Archaeological dental calculus, or mineralized plaque, is a key tool to track the evolution of oral microbiota across time in response to processes that impacted our culture and biology, such as the rise of farming during the Neolithic. However, the extent to which the human oral flora changed from prehistory until present has remained elusive due to the scarcity of data on the microbiomes of prehistoric humans. Here, we present our reconstruction of oral microbiomes via shotgun metagenomics of dental calculus in 44 ancient foragers and farmers from two regions playing a pivotal role in the spread of farming across Europe-the Balkans and the Italian Peninsula. We show that the introduction of farming in Southern Europe did not alter significantly the oral microbiomes of local forager groups, and it was in particular associated with a higher abundance of the species Olsenella sp. oral taxon 807. The human oral environment in prehistory was dominated by a microbial species, Anaerolineaceae bacterium oral taxon 439, that diversified geographically. A Near Eastern lineage of this bacterial commensal dispersed with Neolithic farmers and replaced the variant present in the local foragers. Our findings also illustrate that major taxonomic shifts in human oral microbiome composition occurred after the Neolithic and that the functional profile of modern humans evolved in recent times to develop peculiar mechanisms of antibiotic resistance that were previously absent.

Research field(s)
Health Sciences, Biomedical Research, Microbiology

It was recently shown that the major genetic risk factor associated with becoming severely ill with COVID-19 when infected by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is inherited from Neandertals. New, larger genetic association studies now allow additional genetic risk factors to be discovered. Using data from the Genetics of Mortality in Critical Care (GenOMICC) consortium, we show that a haplotype at a region on chromosome 12 associated with requiring intensive care when infected with the virus is inherited from Neandertals. This region encodes proteins that activate enzymes that are important during infections with RNA viruses. In contrast to the previously described Neandertal haplotype that increases the risk for severe COVID-19, this Neandertal haplotype is protective against severe disease. It also differs from the risk haplotype in that it has a more moderate effect and occurs at substantial frequencies in all regions of the world outside Africa. Among ancient human genomes in western Eurasia, the frequency of the protective Neandertal haplotype may have increased between 20,000 and 10,000 y ago and again during the past 1,000 y.

Research field(s)
Health Sciences, Biomedical Research, Developmental Biology

T helper 17 (Th17) cells produce interleukin-17 (IL-17) cytokines and drive inflammatory responses in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. The differentiation of Th17 cells is dependent on the retinoic acid receptor-related orphan nuclear receptor RORγt. Here, we identify REV-ERBΑ (encoded by Nr1d1), a member of the nuclear hormone receptor family, as a transcriptional repressor that antagonizes RORγt function in Th17 cells. REV-ERBΑ binds to ROR response elements (RORE) in Th17 cells and inhibits the expression of RORγt-dependent genes including Il17a and Il17f. Furthermore, elevated REV-ERBΑ expression or treatment with a synthetic REV-ERB agonist significantly delays the onset and impedes the progression of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). These results suggest that modulating REV-ERBΑ activity may be used to manipulate Th17 cells in autoimmune diseases.

Research field(s)
Health Sciences, Biomedical Research, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology