Neuroscience: Action video games improve vision

Summaries of newsworthy papers include Peek-a-boo perception, Softening bone, Patagonian glacial-age dust machine, New genetic risk factors for breast cancer, Stem cells generate intestine, A new treatment for arrhythmia, Bio-inspired bond-breaking and How does your fungus garden grow?


For papers that will be published online on 29 March 2009

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This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Neuroscience: Action video games improve vision

Nature: Peek-a-boo perception

Medicine: Softening bone

Geoscience: Patagonian glacial-age dust machine

Genetics: New genetic risk factors for breast cancer

Nature: Stem cells generate intestine

Medicine: A new treatment for arrhythmia

Chemistry: Bio-inspired bond-breaking

And finally…Chemical Biology: How does your fungus garden grow?

· Mention of papers to be published at the same time with the same embargo

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Neuroscience: Action video games improve vision
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2296

Playing action video games improves an aspect of vision previously thought to be relatively fixed, finds a study online in the journal Nature Neuroscience. The paper is the first to identify a specific video-game training regimen that could improve eyesight in adults.

Contrast sensitivity is the ability to notice even very small changes in shades of grey against a uniform background, and is important in situations such as driving at night or during poor visibility. This ability is one of the first to be compromised when vision is affected by ageing, and in conditions such as amblyopia, also known as ‘lazy eye’. Improving contrast sensitivity usually requires physical changes in eye optics, through eye surgery, glasses or contact lenses.

Daphne Bavelier and her colleagues studied expert video game players and found that they had better contrast sensitivity when compared to players who played non-action video games. These results weren’t because people with better contrast sensitivity were more likely to be action video game players, because giving non-video game players intensive daily practice in video game playing improved this group’s performance on tests of contrast sensitivity. The improvements did not happen if the gamers played a non-action video game, and so were specific to playing action-filled video games.

Crucially, the improvements in this study were sustained for months or even years in some cases, suggesting that time spent in front of a computer screen is not necessarily harmful for vision, as has sometimes been suggested.

Author contact:
Daphne Bavelier (University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA)
Tel: +1 585 275 8714; E-mail: [email protected]

[2] Nature: Peek-a-boo perception
DOI: 10.1038/nature07868

From a young age, children with autism have an altered perception of biological motion — an ability that assists interaction with other living beings and is linked to social understanding. The finding in this week’s Nature suggests that this may have an effect on their social interaction in later life.

Biological motion perception has been demonstrated in many species, including humans, and its neural mechanisms are linked with the ability to make social decisions using clues from facial expressions and gaze direction, for example. Ami Klin and colleagues suggest that this perceptual ability may be absent from children with autism.

The team tested two-year-olds with autism against controls of the same age for attention patterns when watching displays of biological motion, such as animations of playing peek-a-boo, in a normal and altered format. They found that the children with autism failed to consistently look at the displays, but were instead attracted to features such as associated noises that were ignored by the control children. This suggests that they are highly sensitive to non-social physical cues, and could explain why children with autism fail to look into people’s eyes and focus more at the mouth area.

The autistic children also paid more attention to the display when it was inverted and played in reverse — a format that has been shown to be processed by different circuits in the brain from the perception of biological motion. This suggests a possible disruption of an important mechanism of social interaction.

Data from this study provide a new insight into how children with autism experience the world around them, especially during their first few years of life.

Author contact:
Ami Klin (Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA)
Tel: +1 203 785 3565; E-mail: [email protected]

[3] Medicine: Softening bone
DOI: 10.1038/nm.1945

A molecular mechanism that promotes bone destruction could be harnessed to combat osteoporosis, suggests a paper online this week in Nature Medicine.

Bone formation depends on a balance between cells that create it—osteoblasts—and cells that destroy it—osteoclasts. Understanding the mechanisms that control the origin and function of these cells is crucial for developing treatments for diseases such as osteoporosis.

Kurt Redlich and colleagues report that the C-C chemokine receptor-2 (CCR2) is crucially involved in the regulation of bone mass by promoting the appearance of osteoclasts. The group found that mice lacking CCR2 have high bone mass owing to a decrease in number, size and function of osteoclasts. At the molecular level, activation of CCR2 in osteoclast progenitor cells results in increased expression of a molecule known as RANK, which enabled these cells to respond to signals that drive osteoclast differentiation.

In a model of postmenopausal osteoporosis—mice that underwent ovary removal and therefore have less oestrogen—CCR2 levels increased, thereby increasing RANK and the differentiation potential of osteoclast progenitor cells. As a result, mice lacking CCR2 are resistant to bone loss associated with reduced oestrogen. CCR2 activation could therefore be a target to combat postmenopausal osteoporosis.

Author contact:
Kurt Redlich (Medical University Vienna, Austria)
Tel: +43 140 400 4300; E-mail: [email protected]

[4] Geoscience: Patagonian glacial-age dust machine
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo474

The sudden retreat of Patagonian glaciers 21,000 years ago cut off the supply of atmospheric dust to Antarctica, suggests a paper online this week in Nature Geoscience. Until now, the cause of the abrupt decline in dust in Antarctic ice cores was not understood, as it precedes any recognizable changes in Antarctic temperature or precipitation.

David Sugden and colleagues used radioisotopes to reconstruct the history of glaciers in the Tierra del Fuego region of Patagonia for the past 80,000 years. They found that the glaciers began to retreat 21,000 years ago — the same time as dust levels in Antarctic ice cores dropped off. The team suggests that when the glaciers were at their maximum extent, they were delivering sediment to areas where it could be mobilized as dust and transported to Antarctica. When the glaciers retreated, the sediment was instead trapped in lakes in Patagonia.

Author contact:
David Sugden (University of Edinburgh, UK)
Tel: +44 131 651 4314; E-mail: [email protected]

[5] & [6] Genetics: New genetic risk factors for breast cancer
DOI: 10.1038/ng.353
DOI: 10.1038/ng.354

Several new regions of the genome that predispose to breast cancer have been identified in two large studies online this week in Nature Genetics.

Whether or not a woman is susceptible to acquiring breast cancer is determined by several environmental and lifestyle factors. However, there is also an inherited susceptibility that contributes to getting the disease, since the frequency is twice as high in first-degree relatives of women with breast cancer, than in relatives of women without prior history.

Two large association studies carried out by David Hunter and colleagues, and a group led by Douglas Easton, identify new regions of the genome that are significantly associated with a predisposition for breast cancer. These associations are found near genes that encode proteins associated controlling cell growth like NEK10, or involved with repairing damaged DNA, like RAD51L1. Genes that encode proteins that affect cellular metabolism were also implicated to contribute to breast cancer. SLC4A7 is associated with the pH of the tumour microenvironment and NOTCH2 and FCGR1B are associated with type 2 diabetes.

The identification of the precise mechanism underlying the effects of these common variants on acquiring breast cancer will be critical to understanding the early signs of the disease and to uncovering possible preventions.

Author contacts:
David Hunter (Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA) Author paper [5]
Tel: +1 617 432 2252; E-mail: [email protected]

Douglas Easton (University of Cambridge, UK) Author paper [6]
Tel: +44 1223 740160; E-mail: [email protected]

[7] Nature: Stem cells generate intestine
DOI: 10.1038/nature07935

Cultured intestinal stem cells can be coaxed to produce the many different cell types that make up the intestinal epithelium, a Nature paper reveals. The study offers insights into the links between stem cells and their microenvironment, as well as providing a robust culture system for generating intestinal epithelium — the most rapidly self-renewing tissue found in adult mammals.

The stem cells, which express the protein Lgr5, are found in infolded regions of intestinal epithelium called crypts. Hans Clevers and colleagues describe a long-term culture method for turning single Lgr5-expressing stem cells or single crypt structures into organ-like structures containing all the differentiated cell types found in intestinal crypts. The data indicate that crypts are self-organizing structures, which can be built from a single stem cell in the absence of a cellular niche.

Author contact:
Hans Clevers (Hubrecht Institute, Utrecht, Netherlands)
Tel: +31 302 121 826; E-mail: [email protected]

[8] Medicine: A new treatment for arrhythmia
DOI: 10.1038/nm.1942

A drug currently available in the clinic could be used to treat patients with an inherited form of cardiac arrhythmia, according to a study published this week in Nature Medicine.

CPVT—a specific type of ventricular tachycardia—is a potentially lethal form of arrhythmia. It is commonly linked to mutations in cardiac calcium channels known as ryanodine receptors. Pharmacological interventions against CPVT are often ineffective, but Björn Knollmann and his colleagues have now found that flecainide—a drug already approved to treat other arrhythmias by acting on sodium channels—prevents disease in a mouse model of CPVT by a new mechanism: the direct inhibition of calcium release mediated by cardiac ryanodine receptors.

Flecainide also prevented CPVT in two patients who had not responded to conventional drug therapy, indicating that this currently available drug is a promising mechanism-based therapy against this condition.

Author contact:
Bjorn Knollmann (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA)
Tel: +1 615 343 6493; E-mail: [email protected]

[9] Chemistry: Bio-inspired bond-breaking
DOI: 10.1038/nchem.162

A newly created iron compound can be used to rapidly break strong carbon-hydrogen bonds within molecules, up to 1,000 times faster than previous methods. The research, published online in Nature Chemistry this week, could solve what has been a great challenge for chemists, and is particularly important in the industrial conversion of petroleum from its constituent compounds into more valuable products. Copying nature in this way also adds to the understanding of how enzyme active-sites work.

Larry Que and co-workers took their inspiration from the enzyme that performs this task in nature, which, although not yet fully understood, is believed to contain two iron atoms bridged by two oxygen atoms. Although two other similarly oxygen-bridged iron compounds have been made in the past, neither performs very effectively. The new compound has ligands that grab onto the iron atoms with four nitrogen-prongs and, in a first for iron complexes, can also attack strong oxygen–hydrogen bonds in small alcohol molecules.

Author contact:
Larry Que (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA)
Tel: +1 612 625 0389; E-mail: [email protected]

[10] And finally…Chemical Biology: How does your fungus garden grow?
DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.159

Scientists have discovered a chemical that controls the interactions between a network of ants, fungi, and bacteria, according to a paper to be published online this week in Nature Chemical Biology. This report establishes the molecular basis for this small ecological system.

Fungus-growing ants farm a particular type of fungus for food, but they must protect their desired fungus from predators, such as other types of fungus. The ants rely on bacteria to produce antifungal agents that can specifically kill the predator fungus, but not the cultivated fungus. However, the molecular agents created by the bacteria were not known.

Jon Clardy and colleagues report the identification and characterization of dentigerumycin, a complex natural product that defines the three-species community. With this molecule in hand, scientists are poised for additional discoveries about how the compound is made, how it is used by the ants, and why it is toxic to some fungi but not others.

Author contact:
Jon Clardy (Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 432 2845; Email: [email protected]

Items from other Nature journals to be published online at the same time and with the same embargo:


[11] Targeted bisulfite sequencing reveals changes in DNA methylation associated with nuclear reprogramming
DOI: 10.1038/nbt.1530

[12] Identification of selective inhibitors of uncharacterized enzymes by high-throughput screening with fluorescent activity-based probes
DOI: 10.1038/nbt.1531

[13] Targeted and genome-scale strategies reveal gene-body methylation signatures in human cells
DOI: 10.1038/nbt.1533


[14] Protein kinase D1 regulates cofilin-mediated F-actin reorganization and cell motility through slingshot
DOI: 10.1038/ncb1861


[15] Direct measurement of the ionization state of an essential guanine in the hairpin ribozyme
DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.156

[16] Ligand-directed tosyl chemistry for protein labeling in vivo
DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.157


[17] A unique approach to aldol products for the creation of all-carbon quaternary stereocentres
DOI: 10.1038/nchem.131


[18] Analysis of the matrix metalloproteinase family reveals that MMP8 is often mutated in melanoma
DOI: 10.1038/ng.340

[19] Somatic mutations of the histone H3K27 demethylase gene UTX in human cancer
DOI: 10.1038/ng.349


[20] Divergent functions for airway epithelial matrix metalloproteinase 7 and retinoic acid in experimental asthma
DOI: 10.1038/ni.1719


[21] A cell-free protein-producing gel
DOI: 10.1038/nmat2419

[22] Stepwise surface encoding for high-throughput assembly of nanoclusters
DOI: 10.1038/nmat2421


[23] House dust mite allergen induces asthma via Toll-like receptor 4 triggering of airway structural cells
DOI: 10.1038/nm.1946

[24] Induction of natural killer T cell–dependent alloreactivity by administration of granulocyte colony–stimulating factor after bone marrow transplantation
DOI: 10.1038/nm.1948


[25] Enzyme cascades activated on topologically programmed DNA scaffolds

[26] Direct measurement of dopant distribution in an individual vapour–liquid–solid nanowire

[27] Chemical methods for the production of graphenes

[28] A molecular force probe


[29] Oxidation of a potassium channel causes progressive sensory function loss during aging
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2291

[30] Localization of inner hair cell mechanotransducer channels using high-speed calcium imaging
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2295

[31] A role for motoneuron subtype–selective ER stress in disease manifestations of FALS model mice
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2297

Nature PHYSICS (

[32] Strong-field photoionization revisited
DOI: 10.1038/nphys1228

[33] Origin of the electrophoretic force on DNA in solid-state nanopores
DOI: 10.1038/nphys1230

[34] X-ray imaging of the dynamic magnetic vortex core deformation
DOI: 10.1038/nphys1231

[35] Femtosecond few-fermion dynamics and deterministic single-photon gain in a quantum dot
DOI: 10.1038/nphys1229


[36] A feedback regulatory loop involving microRNA-9 and nuclear receptor TLX in neural stem cell fate determination
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.1576

[37] CK2alpha phosphorylates BMAL1 to regulate the mammalian clock
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.1578


The following list of places refers to the whereabouts of authors on the papers numbered in this release. The listing may be for an author's main affiliation, or for a place where they are working temporarily. Please see the PDF of the paper for full details.

Brisbane: 6, 24
Callaghan: 8
Melbourne: 6, 24
Parkville: 24

Vienna: 3

Minsk: 6

Ghent: 23, 34

Calgary: 8
Toronto: 6

Hong Kong: 19

Helsinki: 6
Kuopio: 6
Vaasa: 6

Bordeaux: 30
Villeneuve d’Ascq: 4

Cologne: 6
Hannover: 6
Heidelberg: 6
Jena: 32
Konstanz: 35
Leipzig: 33
Munich: 6
Munster: 3
Regensburg: 3, 34
Stuttgart: 6, 34
Tubingen: 6
Ulm: 6
Wurzburg: 35

Haifa: 17
Jerusalem: 25
Tel Hashomer: 1

Milan: 19

Kyoto: 16
Miyagi: 14
Niigata: 8
Osaka: 37
Tokyo: 16, 37

Amsterdam: 6, 7, 8, 19, 32
Delft: 33
Leiden: 6
Rotterdam: 6, 23
Utrecht: 7

Tromso: 5, 6
Trondheim: 5, 6

Lodz: 5, 6
Warsaw: 5, 6

Ufa: 6
Yakutsk: 6

Seoul: 6

Madrid: 6

Stockholm: 6

Basel: 31

Taichong: 6
Taipei: 6

Cambridge: 4, 6, 19, 33
Edinburgh: 4
Hinxton: 19
London: 6
Sheffield: 6
Southampton: 6
Stirling: 4
Sutton: 6, 19


Jonesboro: 21

Berkeley: 34
Duarte: 36
Irvine: 6, 37
La Jolla: 11, 12, 15
San Carlos: 7
San Diego: 15
San Francisco: 20
Santa Clara: 11, 13
Stanford: 30
Torrance: 5

New Haven: 2

Jacksonville: 14

Atlanta: 5, 6

Honolulu: 6

Evanston: 26
Urbana: 28

Baltimore: 18
Bethesda: 5, 6, 18, 23
Frederick: 5, 6
Gaithersburg: 5, 6
Rockville: 6

Boston: 2, 5, 6, 10, 11, 13, 19
Cambridge: 5, 11, 13, 21

Grand Rapids: 19

Minneapolis: 5, 6, 9
Rochester: 6

St Louis: 5

New Jersey
Piscataway: 29

New York
Ithaca: 21
New York: 4
Rochester: 1
Stony Brook: 32
Syracuse: 22
Upton: 22

North Dakota
Fargo: 20

Columbus: 5, 32

Pittsburgh: 9

South Carolina
Columbia: 18

Nashville: 2, 8

Austin: 27
College Station: 32
Galveston: 20
Houston: 6, 20

Salt Lake City: 5, 6

Richmond: 11, 13

Seattle: 5, 6

Madison: 10, 11, 30
Marshfield: 5, 6


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Tel: +44 20 7843 4658; E-mail: [email protected]

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Nature Chemical Biology (Boston)
Andrea Garvey
Tel: +1 617 475 9241, E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Chemistry (London)
Stuart Cantrill
Tel: +44 20 7014 4018; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Genetics (New York)
Lily Khidr
Tel: +1 212 726 9324; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Geoscience (London)
Heike Langenberg
Tel: +44 20 7843 4042; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Immunology (New York)
Laurie Dempsey
Tel: +1 212 726 9372; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Materials (London)
Alison Stoddart
Tel: +44 20 7843 4593; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Medicine (New York)
Juan Carlos Lopez
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Nature Nanotechnology (London)
Peter Rodgers
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Nature Neuroscience (New York)
Kalyani Narasimhan
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Nature Physics (London)
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Published: 29 Mar 2009

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