Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Microbiota-derived peptide and autoimmune heart inflammation: a tale of missing data

Papers published in journal Science supposed to undergo thorough high-level vetting process. However, to err is human. Both reviewers and editors are humans and hence they frequently err, for the annoyance of scientists and for the joy of postdocs doing journal clubs.  

Here is an example of a paper that squeezed through the cracks of the Science vetting process. It claims that peptides derived from certain commensal microbiota species cross-react with heart muscle protein, MYH6, causing autoimmune heart inflammation. It has a great Figure 1 showing that MYH6-specific TCR transgenic mice on a germ-free background, lacking microbiota, is protected from heart autoimmunity.

Furthermore, they showed that the re-introduction of microbiota into germ-free makes these mice susceptible to heart inflammation similar to microbiota+ mice.

The authors then tried to identify the microbiota species that contribute to this inflammatory condition. An in silico search identified cross-reactive β-galactosidase (β-gal) mimic peptides in Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron (B. theta) and B. faecis with high similarity to MYH6.

The authors even introduced into germ-free TCR transgenic mice Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron (B. theta) lacking the β-gal. Up to now, it feels that the authors have checked all the boxes necessary for high-quality research. But then for some reason, they do not show survival data comparing Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron (B. theta) with and without the β-gal gene as in figure 1. They just showed how a lack of β-gal Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron modifies MYH6-T cells accumulation in the heart tissue.

So, why the authors don't show survival data of germ-free MYH6 TCR transgenic mice colonized with Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron -/+ β-gal gene? Isn't it the most important result for their hypothesis? Where were reviewers and editors looking?

posted by David Usharauli