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2018-02-20 - Autism: male hormones could increase the prevalence among boys

Boys are affected four times more than girls by certain developmental disorders of the nervous system, such as autism spectrum disorders. However, all the mutations identified on the sex chromosome X do not explain this gender bias. The work of Angélique Quartier, conducted under the direction of Amélie Piton and Jean-Louis Mandel, has shown that male hormones, such as testosterone and its derivatives, by regulating genes important for brain development, some of which are known to be involved in autism spectrum disorders, could increase the susceptibility of boys to developing these disorders. These results are published in Biological Psychiatry on February 8, 2018.

Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by social communication deficits and restricted interests and/or stereotyped repetitive behaviors, often associated with intellectual disabilities. Many studies have concluded that these disorders are much more common in men, but surprisingly, genetic studies to date have shown that while there are genes on the X chromosome involved in intellectual impairment and autistic disorders, there is no significant difference between girls and boys in the percentage of mutations on this chromosome. It has also been shown that there is a correlation between prenatal exposure to male hormones, called androgens, and the development of autistic traits. The role of these hormones during brain development in men may therefore increase their susceptibility to developing nervous system disorders such as autism spectrum disorders or intellectual impairment.


To better understand how androgens can affect brain development, researchers have chosen to study the effects of these male hormones on neural cells. In collaboration with I-stem researchers, they analyzed the effect of these male hormones on human neural stem cells and observed that androgens increase the proliferation of these cells by protecting them from cell death when they differentiate into neurons.

They also found that androgens regulate the expression of several hundred genes in human neural stem cells. Some of these genes are known to be particularly expressed in the brain cortex, also known as the grey matter, of individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

The effect of male hormones on the human neuronal stem cells proliferation and survival regulation and on the gene expression regulation associated with brain development may therefore contribute to the increased sensitivity of the male brain, while also exposed to other genetic and environmental factors, to the development of nervous system diseases, such as autistic spectrum disorders.

This study was funded by the ANR (HARTaGeNe project), the Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale and the Collège de France.

2018-02-15 - How Muscles Keep Fit: Molecular Machinery Unlocked

Several rare myopathies are caused by alterations of proteins involved in muscle cell structure. These cause non-degraded toxic aggregates in the muscle. An earlier study by Dr. Jocelyn Laporte's team at IGBMC revealed an interaction between desmin, an intermediate filament of the cell cytoskeleton, and myotubularin (MTM1) in the dysfunctional degradation process related to two myopathies. In this new study recently published in Nature Cell Biology and conducted in synergy with Dr. Isabela Sumara's team at IGBMC, the degradation mechanism of defective intermediate filaments is revealed, opening up new therapeutic research perspectives. 

The accumulation of aberrant proteins in the striated muscle is a characteristic of a group of genetic pathologies called proteinopathies. More particulary, myofibrillary myopathies are due to alterations in the proteins of the muscular contractile apparatus such as the intermediate filaments of desmin. An accumulation of polymers of misfolded desmin causes the progressive formation of toxic protein aggregates leading to skeletal muscle atrophy.

The mechanism used by the muscle cell to degrade these misfolded proteins is still not well known. Dr Jocelyn Laporte’s team in collaboration with Dr Izabela Sumara’s team, both from IGBMC, has demonstrated a molecular mechanism used by the skeletal muscle to detect and degrade these aberrant proteins. This process involves a protein complex containing myotubularin (MTM1), a protein whose deficiency causes a severe myopathy called myotubular myopathy, and another protein called ubiquilin-2 (UBQLN2) involved in protein recognition and degradation.

The discovery of this mechanism opens up a new field of investigation: exploring these molecular machines in other proteinopathies could indeed allow to identify more specific therapeutic targets in these pathologies. This project, developed under the supervision of Dr. Hnia, in Dr Jocelyn Laporte’s team, was completed at the Institute of Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases in Toulouse (I2MC, INSERM-UMR-1048).


This study was in part-financed by AFM (Association Française contre les Myopathies) and ANR (Agence Nationale pour la Recherche), IDEX and LABEX INRT.

2018-02-13 - Observing protein activity in the nucleus of living human cells

Visualize without disturbing structures and processes taking place in the living cell nucleus is now possible thanks to an innovative technique developed by Laszlo Tora’s team at the IGBMC (CNRS/Inserm/Unistra) in close collaboration with Etienne Weiss at the ESBS Research Institute (CNRS/Unistra). This method allows to introduce, efficiently and without damaging the cells, antibodies labelled with small fluorescent molecules. In the cytoplasm of cells, these fluorescent antibodies bind to their antigens or targets. When the target is a nuclear protein, antibodies are transported with them into the nucleus, allowing researchers to locate and track the movements of this nuclear protein with high accuracy and in real time. The results of this study were published on February 12th, 2018 in the Journal of Cell Biology


Protein detection by immunofluorescence is a technique that has been widely used for many years, where proteins or their post translational modifications are identified with antibodies coupled to microscopically detectable fluorescent compounds. The disadvantage of this process is that the cells need to be fixed and permeabilized, which may damage them, to allow the entry of labelled antibodies. Furthermore, the need to fix cells does not allow the observation of the progression of a biological mechanism over time.


In this new study, researchers from Laszlo Tora’s and Etienne Weiss's teams have developed an ingenious method that allows them to observe chromatin-based mechanisms in the nucleus of living cells, without altering the observed processes. This technique allows the introduction of any antibody labelled with fluorescent compounds that bind specifically to nuclear factors into the cells by using an electric micro-shock that does not modify cells physiology. When these antibodies are in the cytoplasm, they bind to the nuclear factors produced in this cell compartment. Since these factors are naturally transported to the nucleus to exert their function, the nuclear factors linked antibodies are taken to the nucleus. "The antibodies, which bind to these newly synthesized factors, are transported in the nucleus of the cell like small backpacks and, as they are marked with fluorochromes of any color, they will send a signal which allows us to observe the nuclear factors to which they are linked", explains Laszlo Tora. In addition, this visualization of nuclear factors in living cells is very effective because each antibody can be labelled with five to seven fluorescent molecules. The treated cells were observed with a confocal microscope and, in collaboration with the Basel Imaging Centre, with a very high-resolution microscope, the 3D-SIM. Precise observation of proteins that have nuclear activity during the cell cycle allows to see their dynamics and motion in the nucleus of living cells. Researchers have also shown that this strategy makes it possible to detect in real time the appearance and management of DNA damages in the nucleus by detecting a post translational modifications. By using an antibody fragment that has the same properties as a complete antibody and targets a major actor in triggering DNA repair (gammaH2AX), researchers were able to reveal areas in the nucleus where cell DNA is damaged by a substance causing genome changes, called genotoxic agent.


Given the large number of antibodies available on the market, this simple and innovative method will undoubtedly provide new information about nuclear proteins and a better understanding of their behavior in transmitting and maintaining the integrity of genetic information.


This study was funded by the ANR, ERC and the Regional League Against Cancer.

2018-02-07 - The IGBMC International PhD Call is open!

Your application is due to: March 21st noon (Paris time). Please subscribe on:


The IGBMC is one of the leading European biomedical centers, offering an exceptional environment for research and training. We commit ourselves to train students in all fields of structural, molecular and cellular biology with relevance for development, physiology and diseases, and expose them to cutting-edge technology. With a vivid scientific life and an international environment, the IGBMC is the perfect place for PhD students to develop their research projects.

IGBMC’s PhD Programme is a three year - intensive training programme developed to prepare the next generation of scientists. During these three years, our PhD students:

    Experience the everyday excitement of working in a laboratory in an intellectually stimulating and dynamic environment alongside IGBMC’s top scientists.
    Develop an original research project with access to the latest technology developments.
    Have the chance to attend numerous first-class seminars given by internationally distinguished scientists and discuss with them.
    Participate in lectures and practical courses that will give students an insight into the latest developments in biology or state of the art technologies and to help them prepare the next steps of their career.
    Acquire the skills needed to pursue a successful career in biology.


2017-11-15 - Visualization of modifications in the human ribosome structure, a new feat for cryo electron microscopy

Ribosomes play a vital role in living beings: they are protein production stations in all cell types. These large complexes are made up of two kinds of molecules: proteins and ribosomal RNA (rRNA). Through structural studies, Bruno Klaholz's team at the IGBMC revealed more than 130 chemical modifications of the rRNAs. Published in the journal Nature on November 15 2017, these results not only provide a better understanding of the structural and functional roles of human ribosome modifications, but also open up new therapeutic pathways for the treatment of pathologies such as cancer or certain genetic diseases in which dysregulation of protein synthesis is involved.

Genuine molecular machines, ribosomes decipher the information contained in a copy of DNA, called messenger RNA, to synthesize proteins. During ribosomes biogenesis, chemical modifications occur at precise locations of rRNAs. The alteration of these modifications is sometimes associated with disruptions in protein synthesis. Moreover, these modifications in the rRNA structure seem to modulate the activity of antibiotics, indicating that they can influence the ribosome interaction with this kind of drugs.


Chemical modifications of rRNA have been known for decades, particularly in microbes, but their observation remained difficult. In this study, Bruno Klaholz's team at the IGBMC determined the localization and three-dimensional structure of 136 various types of modifications (methylations, acetylations, etc.) of human ribosome rRNAs. The researchers have thus uncovered the role of these chemical modifications which consists in stabilizing the rRNA structure.

The researchers also analyzed the structure of three antibiotics-binding sites, revealing that these molecules are either in direct contact or very close to the rRNAs modifications sites, implying a role of these modifications in the mechanism of action and specificity of these inhibitors. Moreover, the unexpected presence of certain rRNA modifications suggests that rRNA modifications in human ribosomes could vary between different cell types, especially between normal cells and cancer cells, and could thus constitute a signature for cancer states.

This study represents a major result made possible by cryo electron microscopy, a revolutionary method for the observation of macromolecules coupled with image processing and 3D reconstruction, by which the researchers were able to construct a detailed atomic model of the human ribosome. Recognized recently by the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017, this technique provides the double advantage of being able to study biological samples without altering their properties and also allows to fix the orientation of the objects to enable a 3D reconstruction. This work was carried out using a high-resolution electron microscope (Titan Krios) within the French and European infrastructures, FRISBI and Instruct, hosted at the Centre for Integrative Biology at IGBMC.


Beyond mapping at the atomic level, the visualization of rRNA chemical modifications provides unprecedented insights into their role in the stabilization of rRNA structure, in the translation process and in diseases related to ribosome dysfunctions, paving the way for the development of new drug.

This study was supported by the INCa, the Ligue, the ANR, the CPER 2007-2013 (the Greater Region, the Eurometropole of Strasbourg, the General Council of the Bas-Rhin, the Ministry of National Education, higher education and research), FRM, Inserm, CNRS, FRISBI and Instruct-ERIC.


2017-10-09 - Electron cryo-microscopy is honored!

The Sweden Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017 was awarded to Switzerland's Jacques Dubochet, the German-born American Joachim Frank and Britain's Richard Henderson for developing electronic cryo-microscopy, a revolutionary molecular observation method coupled with 3D reconstruction. This technique allows not only to study biological samples without altering their properties, as it is the case with dyes, but also to produce high-resolution three-dimensional structures of biomolecules which represents a revolution in the field of structural biology.


FRISBI open access to national and international scientific, academic and industrial scientific communities to cryo-microscopy devices of high technology: Polara and Titan Krios, see our platforms catalogue

2017-07-19 - Instruct-ERIC was launched at a ceremony in London

At a Royal Society awards ceremony celebrating the prestigious new European Commission-approved status for structural biology Instruct Research Infrastructure, UK Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Jo Johnson recognised the value and relevance of collaborative work between the UK and European scientists.

2017-07-18 - Innate immunity: a new signaling pathway

The defense of an organism depends on its ability to recognize danger signals. In mammals including humans, macrophages represent a predominant cellular system that acts against pathogens and removes cellular debris. Activation of macrophages represents a crucial immune defense mechanism and its deregulation contributes to uncontrolled inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Romeo Ricci’s team at the IGBMC has identified a new signaling pathway involved in the intracellular innate immune defense system. For the first time, they provided evidence that the Golgi apparatus, an important cellular organelle, is involved in the activation of the inflammasome, an intracellular multiprotein complex capable of sensing tissue damage and infectious agents. They also showed that pharmacologic interference with this newly identified mechanism can be used to mitigate inflammation. This study was published on 17 July 2017 in the Journal of Experimental Medecine (JEM).


The macrophage harbors two defense systems against dangers signals: on the one hand, specific receptors on their membrane surface and, on the other hand, intracellular complexes including the the various subsets of inflammasomes that are subjects of this study.


Romeo Ricci’s teamwas particularly interested in the NLRP3 inflammasome subunit activation mechanism. NLRP3 has been recently shown to directly bind to mitochondria-associated endoplasmic reticulum membranes (MAMs) allowing for inflammasome activation. This work showed for the first time that the Golgi apparatus activates Protein Kinase D (PKD) leading to NLRP3 phosphorylation. This phosphorylation was essential to release NLRP3 from MAMs resulting in recruitment of additional components and assembly of the mature NLRP3 inflammasome in the cytoplasm triggering an inflammatory response.

Patients affected by a rare genetic disease called CAPS, in which the gene encoding for the NLRP3 protein is mutated, the NLRP3 inflammasome is constitutively activated resulting in auto-inflammation. Using immune cells isolated from these patients, they demonstrated that inhibition of PKD blocked NLP3 inflammasome activation in vitro and mitigated release of pro-inflammatory factors providing a solid basis for new treatment options in NLRP3-related inflammatory diseases.



The study was funded by a USIAS fellow grant from the University of Strasbourg and the European Research Council (ERC).

2017-07-05 - Instruct-ERIC decision adopted

The European Commission adopted the Instruct-ERIC decision on the 4th July 2017. Instruct is the 17th ERIC to be adopted.

Instruct was initiated in 2008 as a European-funded Preparatory Phase Project 211252 in the ESFRI Programme. In 2011, Instruct entered a transitional phase and in 2012 was operational, providing the first access to Instruct infrastructure through its Centres. Instruct has grown to provide new infrastructure, now modes of service delivery, excellent training courses and internships and has supported scientists through its R&D Pilot programme. Instruct-ERIC will provide the stability and sustainability for Instruct services to the structural biology community and to other life sciences communities within Europe.

Instruct was awarded an EU-funded project 'Instruct-ULTRA' in 2017 to further expand Instruct membership and services. Instruct-ULTRA will enable Instruct to work with new communities and extend and evolve the Instruct infrastructure to meet the demand of researchers wanting high quality structural technologies and methods.

In the nine years of Instruct development, there have been many people who have contributed and this success is thanks to them. Congratulations to all who played their part and we look forward to a bright and productive future as Instruct-ERIC.

See more at

None - Visualization of chemical modifications in the human 80S ribosome structure

Chemical modifications of human ribosomal RNA (rRNA) are introduced during biogenesis and have been implicated in the dysregulation of protein synthesis, as is found in cancer and other diseases. However, their role in this phenomenon is unknown. Here we visualize more than 130 individual rRNA modifications in the three-dimensional structure of the human ribosome, explaining their structural and functional roles. In addition to a small number of universally conserved sites, we identify many eukaryote- or human-specific modifications and unique sites that form an extended shell in comparison to bacterial ribosomes, and which stabilize the RNA. Several of the modifications are associated with the binding sites of three ribosome-targeting antibiotics, or are associated with degenerate states in cancer, such as keto alkylations on nucleotide bases reminiscent of specialized ribosomes. This high-resolution structure of the human 80S ribosome paves the way towards understanding the role of epigenetic rRNA modifications in human diseases and suggests new possibilities for designing selective inhibitors and therapeutic drugs.

This work was carried out using a high resolution electronic cryo-microscope (Titan Krios) within the French and European infrastructures, FRISBI and Instruc-ERIC