Press releases – 2019

 

Nov 12 2019
08:30

Sex-specific processes in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder

Small RNAs link immune system and brain cells

FRANKFURT. Recent studies have found a high genetic similarity of the psychiatric diseases schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, whose disease-specific changes in brain cells show an overlap of more than 70 percent. These changes affect gene expression, i.e., transcription of genes for the purpose of translation into functional proteins. A collaborative study carried out by the Institute of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacy at Goethe University (Professor Jochen Klein) and the Institute of Neurosciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Professor Hermona Soreq) now shows sex-specific biases in these changes, as well as in cellular control mechanisms based on endogenous short ribonucleic acid (RNA) chains.

The scientists identified an important role of microRNAs, a special group of these small RNA molecules, known for their extensive control of gene expression in all human cells. Targeting of a gene by one of these microRNAs can lead to a significant restriction of its expression. “The main problem is the enormous variety of possible combinations," says Sebastian Lobentanzer, lead author of the article published in the journal Cell Reports. “The human expresses about 2,500 of these microRNAs, and a single one can influence hundreds, maybe even thousands of genes."

For this reason, the researchers investigated gene expression in patient brains as well as human cultured nerve cells with a combination of RNA sequencing and bioinformatics. They found a difference in the expression of immune-related genes between men and women, especially with regard to cytokines, the messenger substances of immune cells. Upon exposition of the cultured male and female neuronal cells to some of these cytokines, the researchers found a transformation of nerve cells into to cholinergic neurons, defined by their use of the neurotransmitter “acetylcholine".

By sequencing the microRNAs at several time points during this process, the scientists were able to paint a detailed picture of the microRNA interface between the immune and neuronal systems. They identified the involvement of 17 partially sex-dependent families of microRNAs and generated an extensive network of 12,495 regulated genes. Using a multi-stage selection process, the most influential of these microRNA families were identified and confirmed in dedicated experiments. This led to the identification of the two sex-specifically expressed families mir-10 and mir-199 as interface between cytokines and cholinergic functions.

Psychiatric diseases are an important field for new therapeutic approaches because of their high genetic complexity and their inaccessibility to conventional forms of therapy. On the one hand, the current study demonstrates molecular parallels to the long-observed but previously unexplained clinical differences between disease-affected men and women. On the other hand, mechanisms on the basis of small RNA molecules could open up new avenues by influencing a large number of disease-relevant genes – a promising approach in the search for alternatives to traditional antipsychotic drugs. “Studies such as ours, which enable a comprehensive representation of microRNA interactions, are the first step on the path to developing new therapeutic substances," says Lobentanzer.

Publication: Lobentanzer S, Hanin G, Klein J & Soreq H (2019). Integrative Transcriptomics Reveals Sexually Dimorphic Control of the Cholinergic/Neurokine Interface in Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. CellReports. ElsevierCompany. 1–19. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.09.017.

An image may be downloaded here: www.uni-frankfurt.de/83258617

Caption:
The illustration shows a network of 212 microRNAs and their 12,495 targeted genes, deconstructed into four fields according to their sex-specific changes. (Copyright: Sebastian Lobentanzer)

Further information: Sebastian Lobentanzer, research scientist; Professor Jochen Klein; Institute for Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacy, Riedberg Campus; lobentanzer@em.uni-frankfurt.de, klein@em.uni-frankfurt.de. https://slobentanzer.github.io/cholinergic-neurokine.

 

Nov 11 2019
09:10

Scientists from Goethe University and Senckenberg Society for Nature Research are developing maps on the Zika virus infection risk

How the Zika virus can spread

How the Zika virus can spread 

Scientists from Goethe University and Senckenberg Society for Nature Research are developing maps on the Zika virus infection risk 

FRANKFURT. The spread of infectious diseases such as Zika depends on many different factors. Environmental factors play a role, as do socioeconomic factors. Recently, several attempts have be made to predict the transmission risk of the Zika virus at a global and local level, but the spatial and temporal patterns of transmission are still not well understood. Researchers from Goethe University and the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research in Frankfurt were now able to generate reliable maps for the transmission risk of the Zika virus in South America. 

The results have been published in the scientific journal “PeerJ". Based on the models for South America, they will use the method to determine the Zika risk for Europe as well. In most cases, mosquitoes of the genus Aedes transmit the Zika virus to humans. Primary vectors are the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). Both mosquito species are widespread in South America. Whereas the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes albopictus) is nearly absent in Europe, the Asian tiger mosquito is widespread in the Mediterranean region. 

“With our new modelling approaches we can illustrate the risk areas for Zika infections in Latin America," says Sven Klimpel Professor for Parasitology and Infection Biology at Goethe University in Frankfurt and the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre. “The models additionally allow us to illustrate Zika risk areas for Europe. For example, our models indicate the two autochthonous cases in southern France in Département Var (see illustration)." At the end of October, French authorities announced the first Zika case in Europe; about a week later, a second case was made public. 

According to the researcher's calculations, the Zika infection risk in South America is highest along the Brazilian East Coast and in Central America. The risk is moderate in the Amazon region and lowest in the southern areas of the continent. The following countries are especially affected according to the model: Brazil, Columbia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. In Europe, a risk of infection exists mainly in the Mediterranean region, but also in the inland regions of France and in the Rhine areas of Baden-Württemberg. 

To determine the infection risk of a specific area, the researchers Dr Sarah Cunze and Professor Sven Klimpel modelled the potential spread of the two species of mosquito, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Since the mosquitoes can only transmit the Zika virus in regions where the virus is present in the first place, the researchers included an Evidence Consensus Map in their risk model. This map categorises the number of reported Zika illnesses at the regional level. The average temperature of the warmest quarter was also incorporated in the model, since temperature has a significant influence on whether the virus can survive and multiply in the mosquito. Finally, the scientists added socioeconomic factors such as population density and gross domestic product to their risk model 

Publication: Cunze S, Kochmann J, Koch LK, Genthner E, Klimpel S. 2019. Vector distribution and transmission risk of the Zika virus in South and Central America. PeerJ 7:e7920 DOI 10.7717/peerj.7920 

An image maybe downloaded here: http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/83225123 

Captions:
Illustration 1: Correlative modelling approach for regions with increased Zika infection risk in South America. In addition to the modelled expansion of the two main vector types (Aedes aegypti a1 and Ae. albopictus a2), the model incorporates the average temperature of the warmest quarter (b), the occurrence of the Zika virus (c) and the Dengue virus (e), population density (f) and the gross domestic product.
Illustration 2: Zika infection risk modelled for South America.
Illustration 3: Regions where an autochthonous transmission of the Zika virus through the bite of an infected tiger mosquito is possible, since the temperature conditions are suitable (red areas) and the tiger mosquito is already present as vector species (hatched areas). 

Further information: Professor Sven Klimpel, Institute for Ecology, Evolution and Diversity, Faculty 15 (Biosciences), Riedberg Campus, phone +49 69 798-42237, E-Mail klimpel@bio.uni-frankfurt.de

 

Nov 7 2019
15:23

Study at Goethe University shows: ECB communication strongly affects financial markets

How the ECB’s word choice influences the financial market

FRANKFURT. Eight times a year, the European Central Bank (ECB) sets the key interest rate and announces it through press releases and press conferences. A study by Professor Christian Wagner (Vienna University of Economics and Business) and Professor Maik Schmeling (Goethe University Frankfurt) shows that not only the key interest rate but also the way the ECB communicates it has an impact on financial markets. 

The ECB's most important job is to ensure price stability in the euro area, avoiding major fluctuations in the value of money and maintaining an inflation rate of around 2%. One important instrument for this is the key interest rate, which forms the basis both for financial market transactions and for the conditions applied to savings and loans. If the ECB lowers the key interest rate, saving money become less attractive, while loans become more affordable. Approximately every six weeks, the ECB sets the current key interest rate and publishes its decision at 1:45 pm in a short announcement. At 2:15 pm this is followed by a press conference in which the central bank explains the rationale behind its interest rate decision and gives its assessment of further economic developments. 

In a current research project, Christian Wagner (Vienna University of Economics and Business) and Maik Schmeling from Goethe University investigated whether the way in which the ECB communicates it monetary policies is also reflected in asset prices such as stocks. The result: a change in the ECB's tone has a significant effect on the prices of financial instruments. If the ECB's word choice is more positive, then stock prices rise, while derivatives used to hedge risks become cheaper. “A positive word choice seems to increase market participants' willingness to take risks, leading to rising stock prices," says Maik Schmeling from Goethe University. The authors were also able to show that a more optimistic tone on the part of the ECB is an indicator of more favourable economic developments. Future interest rate changes can be predicted based on the tone of the ECB's communications. In other words, the way in which the ECB communicates with the market allows conclusions to be drawn about its future interest rate policy. 

The results of this study are particularly relevant with regard to central banks' capacity to act, because they show that through their choice of words, central banks can influence market participants' expectations and willingness to take risks. The communication strategy of a central bank therefore represents an instrument of money policy on its own. For market participants, the results of the study mean that listening closely to the tone of the ECB will provide additional clues for making investment and financing decisions. The authors of the study analysed the ECB's tone and generated a time series of changes in tone from one press conference to the next. This makes it possible to observe how stock prices and other financial instruments changed depending on the ECB's tone. For their analysis, Wagner and Schmeling used high-frequency financial data, which is available at one-minute intervals, allowing them to track price developments right from the start of the press conference. In their analysis, the researchers also controlled for the level of interest rate changes and other “hard facts" published during the press conference, such as growth and inflation forecasts. 

Maik Schmeling has been professor for finance at the Faculty of Business and Economics at Goethe University since May 2018. From 2013 to 2018, he was professor of finance at the Cass Business School, City, University of London. In his research, Maik Schmeling focuses on various issues in the field of international financial markets, such as risk premiums on currency and money markets, the connection between monetary policies and asset prices, and the formation of expectations on financial markets. Schmeling has published in such internationally renowned publications as the “Journal of Finance," the “Journal of Financial Economics" and the “Review of Financial Studies." 

Publication: Schmeling, Maik and Wagner, Christian, Does Central Bank Tone Move Asset Prices? (October 23, 2019). Available at: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2629978 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2629978 

Further information: Maik Schmeling, Professor für Finance, Finances Department, Faculty of Business and Economics, Westend Campus, schmeling@finance.uni-frankfurt.de

 

Oct 14 2019
15:57

Brain imaging study investigates why cognitive abilities differ between individuals 

Wired for intelligence: brain networks more stable in individuals with higher cognitive abilities

FRANKFURT. The interconnections and communication between different regions of the human brain influence our behaviour in many ways. This is also true for individual differences in higher cognitive abilities. The brains of more intelligent individuals are characterised by temporally more stable interactions in neural networks. This is the result of a recent study conducted by Dr Kirsten Hilger and Professor Christian Fiebach from the Department of Psychology and Brain Imaging Center of Goethe University Frankfurt in collaboration with Dr Makoto Fukushima and Professor Olaf Sporns from Indiana University Bloomington, USA. The study was published online in the scientific journal 'Human Brain Mapping' on 6th October. 

Intelligence and its neurobiological basis 
Various theories have been proposed to explain the differences in different individuals' cognitive abilities, including neurobiological models. For instance, it has been proposed that more intelligent individuals make stronger use of certain brain areas, that their brains generally operate more efficiently, or that certain brain systems are better wired in smarter people. Only recently have methodological advances made it possible to also investigate the temporal dynamics of human brain networks, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). An international team of researchers from Goethe University and Indiana University Bloomington analysed fMRI scans of 281 participants to investigate how dynamic network characteristics of the human brain relate to general intelligence. 

Stability of brain networks as general advantage
The human brain has a modular organisation - it can be subdivided into different networks that serve different functions such as vision, hearing, or the control of voluntary behaviour. In their current study, Kirsten Hilger and colleagues investigated whether this modular organisation of the human brain changes over time, and whether or not these changes relate to individual differences in the scores that study participants achieved in an intelligence test. The results of the study show that the modular brain network organisation of more intelligent persons exhibited less fluctuations during the fMRI measurement session. This increased stability of brain network organisation was primarily found in brain systems that are important for the control of attention. 

Attention plays a key role
“The study of the temporal dynamics of human brain networks using fMRI is a relatively new field of research" says Hilger. She speculates: “The temporally more stable network organisation in more intelligent individuals could be a protective mechanism of the brain against falling into maladaptive network states in which major networks disconnect and communication may be hampered." She also stresses that it remains an open question how exactly these network properties influence cognitive ability: “At present, we do not know whether the temporally more stable brain connections are a source or a consequence of higher intelligence. However, our results suggest that processes of controlled attention – that is, the ability to stay focused and to concentrate on a task – may play an important role for general intelligence." 

Publication: Hilger, K., Fukushima, M., Sporns, O., & Fiebach, C. F. (2019). Temporal Stability of Functional Brain Modules Associated with Human Intelligence. Human Brain Mapping. (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.24807

Further information: Dr Kirsten Hilger, Department of Psychology, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 6, D-60323 Frankfurt, Germany. hilger@psych.uni-frankfurt.de, Tel. +49 (0)160-3391686; see also the webpage of the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience at Goethe University: http://fiebachlab.org

 

Oct 11 2019
10:09

The Goethe University physics professor to be Andrews Professor of Astronomy at Dublin Trinity College

Luciano Rezzolla awarded prestigious honorary professorship

FRANKFURT. For his outstanding contributions in the field of astrophysics, Luciano Rezzolla, Professor for Astrophysics at Goethe University, will be appointed Andrews Professor of Astronomy at Trinity College in Dublin. Previously combined with the leadership of the Irish Dunsink Observatory, today the title is a prestigious honorary chair. The appointment of Luciano Rezzolla represents the first time the professorship will be given to a non-Irish person. 

“The Andrews Professor for Astronomy is a tremendous recognition of the excellence achieved in astrophysics research at Goethe University," says Luciano Rezzolla. “It's simultaneously a recognition of a paradigm change that has also taken place in Frankfurt, in which theoretical astrophysics and theoretical physics are being combined more and more in the quest for a deeper understanding of the universe. I am very happy that together with my team and many other colleagues in Frankfurt and Dublin, I have been able to use this potential to continue improving our research. 

“This title is a great honour, both for Luciano Rezzolla and for his team at the Institute for Theoretical Physics", says Simone Fulda, Vice President for Research and Academic Infrastructure at Goethe University. “The award illustrates the high value placed on physics within Goethe University research. We are quite proud of this and extend Luciano Rezzolla our warmest congratulations." 

The Andrews Professor for Astrophysics was established in 1774. The politician and provost of Trinity College, Francis Andrews, bequeathed £3,000 to build a new observatory in Dunsink. The first Andrews Professor was the mathematician and astronomer Henry Ussher, who was appointed in 1783. Between 1791 and 1921 the holder of the chair was also the “Royal Astronomer of Ireland". After remaining vacant between 1921 and 1984, the position was subsequently re-established as an honorary chair. With this appointment, Rezzolla follows in the footsteps of Sir William Rowan Hamilton, who held the position from 1827 to 1865, and after whom Hamiltonian mechanics was named. 

In addition to this honour, Rezzolla gained worldwide media attention in April of this year. As principal investigator of the “Black Hole Cam Project" (BHC Project), he and his colleagues made the observation of the hot plasma ring surrounding the black hole in the centre of the Galaxy M87 visible for the first time. The National Science Foundation, the US government agency for research funding, recognized the first image of black hole with a new prize: in 2019, the Diamond Achievement Award was given to the international team of the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, of which Professor Rezzolla is also a member. Rezzolla and his team at the Institute for Theoretical Physics were also awarded the Frankfurt Physics Science Prize. 

Publication: https://ipfs.io/ipfs/QmXoypizjW3WknFiJnKLwHCnL72vedxjQkDDP1mXWo6uco/wiki/Andrews_Professorship_of_Astronomy.html

An image can be downloaded here: http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/82568015
Credit: Jürgen Lecher, Goethe University 

Further information: Professor Luciano Rezzolla, Institute for Theoretical Physics, Faculty of Physics, Riedberg Campus, Telephone: +49 69 798 47871, rezzolla@th.physik.uni-frankfurt.de; https://astro.uni-frankfurt.de/rezzolla/