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1.  Critical Early Roles for col27a1a and col27a1b in Zebrafish Notochord Morphogenesis, Vertebral Mineralization and Post-embryonic Axial Growth 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(12):e8481.
Fibrillar collagens are well known for their links to human diseases, with which all have been associated except for the two most recently identified fibrillar collagens, type XXIV collagen and type XXVII collagen. To assess functions and potential disease phenotypes of type XXVII collagen, we examined its roles in zebrafish embryonic and post-embryonic development.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We identified two type XXVII collagen genes in zebrafish, col27a1a and col27a1b. Both col27a1a and col27a1b were expressed in notochord and cartilage in the embryo and early larva. To determine sites of type XXVII collagen function, col27a1a and col27a1b were knocked down using morpholino antisense oligonucleotides. Knockdown of col27a1a singly or in conjunction with col27a1b resulted in curvature of the notochord at early stages and formation of scoliotic curves as well as dysmorphic vertebrae at later stages. These defects were accompanied by abnormal distributions of cells and protein localization in the notochord, as visualized by transmission electron microscopy, as well as delayed vertebral mineralization as detected histologically.
Together, our findings indicate a key role for type XXVII collagen in notochord morphogenesis and axial skeletogenesis and suggest a possible human disease phenotype.
PMCID: PMC2794549  PMID: 20041163
2.  Alternative splicing modifies the effect of mutations in COL11A1 and results in recessive type 2 Stickler syndrome with profound hearing loss 
Journal of Medical Genetics  2013;50(11):765-771.
Stickler syndromes types 1, 2 and 3 are usually dominant disorders caused by mutations in the genes COL2A1, COL11A1 and COL11A2 that encode the fibrillar collagens types II and XI present in cartilage and vitreous. Rare recessive forms of Stickler syndrome exist that are due to mutations in genes encoding type IX collagen (COL9A1 type 4 Stickler syndrome and COL9A2 type 5 Stickler syndrome). Recently, recessive mutations in the COL11A1 gene have been demonstrated to result in fibrochondrogenesis, a much more severe skeletal dysplasia, which is often lethal. Here we demonstrate that some mutations in COL11A1 are recessive, modified by alternative splicing and result in type 2 Stickler syndrome rather than fibrochondrogenesis.
Patients referred to the national Stickler syndrome diagnostic service for England, UK were assessed clinically and subsequently sequenced for mutations in COL11A1. Additional in silico and functional studies to assess the effect of sequence variants on pre-mRNA processing and collagen structure were performed.
In three different families, heterozygous COL11A1 biallelic null, null/missense or silent/missense mutations, were found. They resulted in a recessive form of type 2 Stickler syndrome characterised by particularly profound hearing loss and are clinically distinct from the recessive types 4 and 5 variants of Stickler syndrome. One mutant allele in each family is capable of synthesising a normal α1(XI) procollagen molecule, via variable pre-mRNA processing.
This new variant has important implications for molecular diagnosis and counselling families with type 2 Stickler syndrome.
PMCID: PMC3812854  PMID: 23922384
Stickler syndrome; Recessive Inheritance; Alternative Splicing
3.  Distinct patterns of notochord mineralization in zebrafish coincide with the localization of Osteocalcin isoform 1 during early vertebral centra formation 
In chondrichthyans, basal osteichthyans and tetrapods, vertebral bodies have cartilaginous anlagen that subsequently mineralize (chondrichthyans) or ossify (osteichthyans). Chondrocytes that form the vertebral centra derive from somites. In teleost fish, vertebral centrum formation starts in the absence of cartilage, through direct mineralization of the notochord sheath. In a second step, the notochord is surrounded by somite-derived intramembranous bone. In several small teleost species, including zebrafish (Danio rerio), even haemal and neural arches form directly as intramembranous bone and only modified caudalmost arches remain cartilaginous. This study compares initial patterns of mineralization in different regions of the vertebral column in zebrafish. We ask if the absence or presence of cartilaginous arches influences the pattern of notochord sheath mineralization.
To reveal which cells are involved in mineralization of the notochord sheath we identify proliferating cells, we trace mineralization on the histological level and we analyze cell ultrastructure by TEM. Moreover, we localize proteins and genes that are typically expressed by skeletogenic cells such as Collagen type II, Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and Osteocalcin (Oc). Mineralization of abdominal and caudal vertebrae starts with a complete ring within the notochord sheath and prior to the formation of the bony arches. In contrast, notochord mineralization of caudal fin centra starts with a broad ventral mineral deposition, associated with the bases of the modified cartilaginous arches. Similar, arch-related, patterns of mineralization occur in teleosts that maintain cartilaginous arches throughout the spine.
Throughout the entire vertebral column, we were able to co-localize ALP-positive signal with chordacentrum mineralization sites, as well as Collagen II and Oc protein accumulation in the mineralizing notochord sheath. In the caudal fin region, ALP and Oc signals were clearly produced both by the notochord epithelium and cells outside the notochord, the cartilaginous arches. Based on immunostaining, real time PCR and oc2:gfp transgenic fish, we identify Oc in the mineralizing notochord sheath as osteocalcin isoform 1 (Oc1).
If notochord mineralization occurs prior to arch formation, mineralization of the notochord sheath is ring-shaped. If notochord mineralization occurs after cartilaginous arch formation, mineralization of the notochord sheath starts at the insertion point of the arches, with a basiventral origin. The presence of ALP and Oc1, not only in cells outside the notochord, but also in the notochord epithelium, suggests an active role of the notochord in the mineralization process. The same may apply to Col II-positive chondrocytes of the caudalmost haemal arches that show ALP activity and Oc1 accumulation, since these chondrocytes do not mineralize their own cartilage matrix. Even without cartilaginous preformed vertebral centra, the cartilaginous arches may have an inductive role in vertebral centrum formation, possibly contributing to the distinct mineralization patterns of zebrafish vertebral column and caudal fin vertebral fusion.
PMCID: PMC3517302  PMID: 23043290
Vertebral column; Vertebral fusion; Notochord; Osteocalcin
4.  Natural variation in four human collagen genes across an ethnically diverse population 
Genomics  2008;91(4):307-314.
Collagens are members of one of the most important families of structural proteins in higher organisms. There are 28 types of collagens encoded by 43 genes in humans that fall into several different functional protein classes. Mutations in the major fibrillar collagen genes lead to osteogenesis imperfecta (COL1A1 and COL1A2 encoding the chains of Type I collagen), chondrodysplasias (COL2A1 encoding the chains of Type II collagen), and vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (COL3A1 encoding the chains of Type III collagen). Over the last two decades, mutations in these collagen genes have been catalogued, in the hopes to understand the molecular etiology of diseases caused by these mutations, characterize the genotype-phenotype relationships, and develop robust models predicting the molecular and clinical outcomes. To better achieve these goals, it is necessary to understand the natural patterns of variation in collagen genes in human populations. We screened exons, flanking intronic regions, and conserved non-coding regions for variations in COL1A1, COL1A2, COL2A1 and COL3A1 in 48 individuals from each of four ethnically diverse populations. We identified 459 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), more than half of which were novel and not found in public databases. Of the 52 SNPs found in coding regions, 15 caused amino acid substitutions while 37 did not. Although the four collagens have similar gene and protein structures, they have different molecular evolutionary characteristics. For example, COL1A1 appears to have been under substantially stronger negative selection than the rest. Phylogenetic analysis also suggests that the four genes have very different evolutionary histories among the different ethnic groups. Our observations suggest that the study of collagen mutations and their relationships with disease phenotypes should be performed in the context of the genetic background of the subjects.
PMCID: PMC2737816  PMID: 18272325
5.  Identification of an evolutionarily conserved regulatory element of the zebrafish col2a1a gene 
Developmental biology  2011;357(2):518-531.
Zebrafish (Danio rerio) is an excellent model organism for the study of vertebrate development including skeletogenesis. Studies of mammalian cartilage formation were greatly advanced through the use of a cartilage specific regulatory element of the Collagen type II alpha 1 (Col2a1) gene. In an effort to isolate such an element in zebrafish, we compared the expression of two col2a1 homologues and found that expression of col2a1b, a previously uncharacterized zebrafish homologue, only partially overlaps with col2a1a. We focused our analysis on col2a1a, as it is expressed in both the stacked chondrocytes and the perichondrium. By comparing the genomic sequence surrounding the predicted transcriptional start site of col2a1a among several species of teleosts we identified a small highly conserved sequence (R2) located 1.7 kb upstream of the presumptive transcriptional initiation site. Interestingly, neither the sequence nor location of this element is conserved between teleost and mammalian Col2a1. We generated transient and stable transgenic lines with just the R2 element or the entire 1.7 kb fragment 5’ of the transcriptional initiation site. The identified regulatory elements enable the tracking of cellular development in various tissues by driving robust reporter expression in craniofacial cartilage, ear, notochord, floor plate, hypochord and fins in a pattern similar to the expression of endogenous col2a1a. Using a reporter gene driven by the R2 regulatory element, we analyzed the morphogenesis of the notochord sheath cells as they withdraw from the stack of initially uniform cells and encase the inflating vacuolated notochord cells. Finally, we show that like endogenous col2a1a, craniofacial expression of these reporter constructs depends on Sox9a transcription factor activity. At the same time, notochord expression is maintained after Sox9a knockdown, suggesting that other factors can activate expression through the identified regulatory element in this tissue.
PMCID: PMC3164268  PMID: 21723274
Collagen; Cranial Sutures; Growth Plate; Intervertebral Disc; Semicircular Canals; Weberian apparatus
6.  An exon skipping mutation of a type V collagen gene (COL5A1) in Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. 
Journal of Medical Genetics  1996;33(11):940-946.
The Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) is a heterogeneous group of inherited connective tissue disorders characterised by skin hyperextensibility, joint hypermobility, easy bruising, and cutaneous fragility. Nine discrete clinical subtypes have been classified. We have investigated the molecular defect in a patient with clinical features of Ehlers-Danlos syndromes types I/II and VII. Electron microscopy of skin tissue indicated abnormal collagen fibrillogenesis with longitudinal sections showing a marked disruption of fibril packing giving very irregular outlines to transverse sections. Analysis of the collagens produced by cultured fibroblasts showed that the type V collagen had a population of alpha 1 (V) chains shorter than normal. Peptide mapping suggested a deletion within the triple helical domain. RTPCR amplification of mRNA covering the whole of this domain of COL5A1 showed a deletion of 54 bp. Although six Gly-X-Y triplets were lost, the essential triplet amino acid sequence and C-propeptide structure were maintained allowing mutant protein chains to be incorporated into triple helices. Genomic DNA analysis identified a de novo G+3-->T transversion in a 5' splice site of one COL5A1 allele. This mutation is analogous to mutations causing exon skipping in the major collagen genes, COL1A1, COL1A2, and COL3A1, identified in several cases of osteogenesis imperfecta and EDS type IV. These observations support the hypothesis that type V, although quantitatively a minor collagen, has a critical role in the formation of the fibrillar collagen matrix.
PMCID: PMC1050789  PMID: 8950675
7.  Dysfunctional Tendon Collagen Fibrillogenesis in Collagen VI Null Mice* 
Tendons are composed of fibroblasts and collagen fibrils. The fibrils are organized uniaxially and grouped together into fibers. Collagen VI is a non-fibrillar collagen expressed in developing and adult tendons. Human collagen VI mutations result in muscular dystrophy, joint hyperlaxity and contractures. The purpose of this study is to determine the functional roles of collagen VI in tendon matrix assembly. During tendon development, collagen VI was expressed throughout the extracellular matrix, but enriched around fibroblasts and their processes. To analyze the functional roles of collagen VI a mouse model with a targeted inactivation of Col6a1 gene was utilized. Ultrastructural analysis of Col6a1−/− versus wild type tendons demonstrated disorganized extracellular micro-domains and collagen fibers in the Col6a1−/− tendon. In the col6a1−/− tendon, fibril structure and diameter distribution was abnormal compared to wild type controls. Col6a1−/− fibrils had smaller diameters and the diameter distributions were shifted significantly toward the smaller diameters. An analysis of fibril density (number/μm2) demonstrated an ~2.5 fold increase in the Col6a1−/− versus wild type tendons. In addition, the fibril arrangement and structure was aberrant in the peri-cellular regions of Col6a1−/− tendons with frequent very large fibrils and twisted fibrils observed restricted to this region. The biomechanical properties were analyzed in mature tendons. A significant decrease in cross sectional area was observed. The percent relaxation, maximum load, maximum stress, stiffness and modulus were analyzed and Col6a1−/− tendons demonstrated a significant reduction in maximum load and stiffness compared to wild type tendons. An increase in matrix metalloproteinase activity was suggested in the absence of collagen VI. This suggests alterations in tenocyte expression due to disruption of cell-matrix interactions. The changes in expression may result in alterations in the peri-cellular environment. In addition, the absence of collagen VI may alter the sequestering of regulatory molecules such as leucine rich proteoglycans. These changes would result in dysfunctional regulation of tendon fibrillogenesis indirectly mediated by collagen VI.
PMCID: PMC3778658  PMID: 20951202
Collagen VI; Tendon; Development; Fibrillogenesis; Tendon Biomechanics; Collagen VI-null mouse
8.  Collagen II Is Essential for the Removal of the Notochord and the Formation of Intervertebral Discs  
The Journal of Cell Biology  1998;143(5):1399-1412.
Collagen II is a fibril-forming collagen that is mainly expressed in cartilage. Collagen II–deficient mice produce structurally abnormal cartilage that lacks growth plates in long bones, and as a result these mice develop a skeleton without endochondral bone formation. Here, we report that Col2a1-null mice are unable to dismantle the notochord. This defect is associated with the inability to develop intervertebral discs (IVDs). During normal embryogenesis, the nucleus pulposus of future IVDs forms from regional expansion of the notochord, which is simultaneously dismantled in the region of the developing vertebral bodies. However, in Col2a1-null mice, the notochord is not removed in the vertebral bodies and persists as a rod-like structure until birth. It has been suggested that this regional notochordal degeneration results from changes in cell death and proliferation. Our experiments with wild-type mice showed that differential proliferation and apoptosis play no role in notochordal reorganization. An alternative hypothesis is that the cartilage matrix exerts mechanical forces that induce notochord removal. Several of our findings support this hypothesis. Immunohistological analyses, in situ hybridization, and biochemical analyses demonstrate that collagens I and III are ectopically expressed in Col2a1-null cartilage. Assembly of the abnormal collagens into a mature insoluble matrix is retarded and collagen fibrils are sparse, disorganized, and irregular. We propose that this disorganized abnormal cartilage collagen matrix is structurally weakened and is unable to constrain proteoglycan-induced osmotic swelling pressure. The accumulation of fluid leads to tissue enlargement and a reduction in the internal swelling pressure. These changes may be responsible for the abnormal notochord removal in Col2a1-null mice.
Our studies also show that chondrocytes do not need a collagen II environment to express cartilage-specific matrix components and to hypertrophy. Furthermore, biochemical analysis of collagen XI in mutant cartilage showed that α1(XI) and α2 (XI) chains form unstable collagen XI molecules, demonstrating that the α3(XI) chain, which is an alternative, posttranslationally modified form of the Col2a1 gene, is essential for assembly and stability of triple helical collagen XI.
PMCID: PMC2133086  PMID: 9832566
collagen II; notochord; vertebral column; intervertebral disc; development
9.  A Novel Splice Variant in the N-propeptide of COL5A1 Causes an EDS Phenotype with Severe Kyphoscoliosis and Eye Involvement 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e20121.
The Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) is a heritable connective tissue disorder characterized by hyperextensible skin, joint hypermobility and soft tissue fragility. The classic subtype of EDS is caused by mutations in one of the type V collagen genes (COL5A1 and COL5A2). Most mutations affect the type V collagen helical domain and lead to a diminished or structurally abnormal type V collagen protein. Remarkably, only two mutations were reported to affect the extended, highly conserved N-propeptide domain, which plays an important role in the regulation of the heterotypic collagen fibril diameter. We identified a novel COL5A1 N-propeptide mutation, resulting in an unusual but severe classic EDS phenotype and a remarkable splicing outcome.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We identified a novel COL5A1 N-propeptide acceptor-splice site mutation (IVS6-2A>G, NM_000093.3_c.925-2A>G) in a patient with cutaneous features of EDS, severe progressive scoliosis and eye involvement. Two mutant transcripts were identified, one with an exon 7 skip and one in which exon 7 and the upstream exon 6 are deleted. Both transcripts are expressed and secreted into the extracellular matrix, where they can participate in and perturb collagen fibrillogenesis, as illustrated by the presence of dermal collagen cauliflowers. Determination of the order of intron removal and computational analysis showed that simultaneous skipping of exons 6 and 7 is due to the combined effect of delayed splicing of intron 7, altered pre-mRNA secondary structure, low splice site strength and possibly disturbed binding of splicing factors.
We report a novel COL5A1 N-propeptide acceptor-splice site mutation in intron 6, which not only affects splicing of the adjacent exon 7, but also causes a splicing error of the upstream exon 6. Our findings add further insights into the COL5A1 splicing order and show for the first time that a single COL5A1 acceptor-splice site mutation can perturb splicing of the upstream exon.
PMCID: PMC3096658  PMID: 21611149
10.  COL2A1 exon 2 mutations: relevance to the Stickler and Wagner syndromes 
AIMS—To compare the clinical and molecular genetic features of two phenotypically distinct subgroups of families with type 1 Stickler syndrome.
BACKGROUND—Stickler syndrome (hereditary arthro-ophthalmopathy, McKusick Nos 108300 and 184840) is a dominantly inherited disorder of collagen connective tissue, resulting in an abnormal vitreous, myopia, and a variable degree of orofacial abnormality, deafness, and arthropathy. Stickler syndrome is the commonest inherited cause of rhegmatogenous retinal detachment in childhood with a risk of giant retinal tear (GRT) which is commonly bilateral and a frequent cause of blindness.
METHOD—Pedigrees were identified from the vitreoretinal service database and subclassified according to vitreoretinal phenotype. Ophthalmic, skeletal, auditory, and orofacial features were assessed. Linkage analysis was carried out with markers for the candidate genes COL2A1, COL11A1, and COL11A2. The COL2A1 gene was amplified as five overlapping PCR products. Direct sequencing of individual exons identified mutations.
RESULTS—Eight families exhibiting the type 1 vitreous phenotype were studied. Seven were consistent for linkage to COL2A1, with lod scores ranging from 2.1 to 0.3. In most instances linkage to COL11A1 and COL11A2 could be excluded. One family was analysed without prior linkage analysis. Three of the families exhibited a predominantly ocular phenotype with minimal or absent systemic involvement and were found to have mutations in exon 2 of COL2A1. Five other pedigrees with an identical ocular phenotype plus orofacial, auditory, and articular involvement had mutations in others regions of the COL2A1 gene. None of the pedigrees exhibited the characteristic lenticular, retinal pigment epithelial, or choroidal changes seen in Wagner syndrome.
CONCLUSIONS—These data confirm that type 1 Stickler syndrome is caused by mutations in the gene encoding type II collagen (COL2A1). In addition, data are submitted showing that mutations involving exon 2 of COL2A1 are characterised by a predominantly ocular variant of this disorder, consistent with the major form of type II procollagen in non-ocular tissues having exon 2 spliced out. Such patients are all at high risk of retinal detachment. This has important implications for counselling patients with regard to the development of systemic complications. It also emphasises the importance and reliability of the ophthalmic examination in the differential diagnosis of this predominantly ocular form of Stickler syndrome from Wagner's vitreoretinopathy.

PMCID: PMC1723423  PMID: 10729292
11.  Collagen 11a1 is Indirectly Activated by Lymphocyte Enhancer-binding Factor 1 (Lef1) and Negatively Regulates Osteoblast Maturation 
Alpha 1 (XI) collagen (Col11a1) is essential for normal skeletal development. Mutations in Col11a1 cause Marshall and Stickler syndromes, both of which are characterized by craniofacial abnormalities, nearsightedness and hearing deficiencies. Despite its link to human diseases, few studies have described factors that control Col11a1 transcription. We previously identified Col11a1 as a differentially expressed gene in Lef1-suppressed MC3T3 preosteoblasts. Here we report that Lef1 activates the Col11a1 promoter. This activation is dependent upon the DNA binding domain of Lef1, but does not require the ²-catenin interaction domain, suggesting that it is not responsive to Wnt signals. Targeted suppression of Col11a1 with an antisense morpholino accelerated osteoblastic differentiation and mineralization in C2C12 cells, similar to what was observed in Lef1-suppressed MC3T3 cells. Moreover incubation with a purified Col11a1 N-terminal fragment, V1B, prevented alkaline phosphatase expression in MC3T3 and C2C12 cells. These results suggest that Lef1 is an activator of the Col11a1 promoter and that Col11a1 suppresses terminal osteoblast differentiation.
PMCID: PMC2431459  PMID: 18280717
Lef1; Wnt; beta-catenin; collagen 11a1; VO; V1b; osteoblasts
12.  Loss of Col3a1, the Gene for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type IV, Results in Neocortical Dyslamination 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e29767.
It has recently been discovered that Collagen III, the encoded protein of the type IV Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) gene, is one of the major constituents of the pial basement membrane (BM) and serves as the ligand for GPR56. Mutations in GPR56 cause a severe human brain malformation called bilateral frontoparietal polymicrogyria, in which neurons transmigrate through the BM causing severe mental retardation and frequent seizures. To further characterize the brain phenotype of Col3a1 knockout mice, we performed a detailed histological analysis. We observed a cobblestone-like cortical malformation, with BM breakdown and marginal zone heterotopias in Col3a1−/− mouse brains. Surprisingly, the pial BM appeared intact at early stages of development but starting as early as embryonic day (E) 11.5, prominent BM defects were observed and accompanied by neuronal overmigration. Although collagen III is expressed in meningeal fibroblasts (MFs), Col3a1−/− MFs present no obvious defects. Furthermore, the expression and posttranslational modification of α-dystroglycan was undisturbed in Col3a1−/− mice. Based on the previous finding that mutations in COL3A1 cause type IV EDS, our study indicates a possible common pathological pathway linking connective tissue diseases and brain malformations.
PMCID: PMC3250483  PMID: 22235340
13.  SOX9 Governs Differentiation Stage-Specific Gene Expression in Growth Plate Chondrocytes via Direct Concomitant Transactivation and Repression 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(11):e1002356.
Cartilage and endochondral bone development require SOX9 activity to regulate chondrogenesis, chondrocyte proliferation, and transition to a non-mitotic hypertrophic state. The restricted and reciprocal expression of the collagen X gene, Col10a1, in hypertrophic chondrocytes and Sox9 in immature chondrocytes epitomise the precise spatiotemporal control of gene expression as chondrocytes progress through phases of differentiation, but how this is achieved is not clear. Here, we have identified a regulatory element upstream of Col10a1 that enhances its expression in hypertrophic chondrocytes in vivo. In immature chondrocytes, where Col10a1 is not expressed, SOX9 interacts with a conserved sequence within this element that is analogous to that within the intronic enhancer of the collagen II gene Col2a1, the known transactivation target of SOX9. By analysing a series of Col10a1 reporter genes in transgenic mice, we show that the SOX9 binding consensus in this element is required to repress expression of the transgene in non-hypertrophic chondrocytes. Forced ectopic Sox9 expression in hypertrophic chondrocytes in vitro and in mice resulted in down-regulation of Col10a1. Mutation of a binding consensus motif for GLI transcription factors, which are the effectors of Indian hedgehog signaling, close to the SOX9 site in the Col10a1 regulatory element, also derepressed transgene expression in non-hypertrophic chondrocytes. GLI2 and GLI3 bound to the Col10a1 regulatory element but not to the enhancer of Col2a1. In addition to Col10a1, paired SOX9–GLI binding motifs are present in the conserved non-coding regions of several genes that are preferentially expressed in hypertrophic chondrocytes and the occurrence of pairing is unlikely to be by chance. We propose a regulatory paradigm whereby direct concomitant positive and negative transcriptional control by SOX9 ensures differentiation phase-specific gene expression in chondrocytes. Discrimination between these opposing modes of transcriptional control by SOX9 may be mediated by cooperation with different partners such as GLI factors.
Author Summary
Chondrogenic differentiation is a key process in the formation of endochondral bone. Despite the wealth of information about gene expression patterns and signaling pathways important for this process, it is not clear how differentiation state-specificity of transcription is controlled. The transcription factor SOX9 regulates chondrocyte differentiation, proliferation, and entry into hypertrophy and is highly expressed in immature/proliferating chondrocytes. It directly transactivates Col2a1, enhancing this gene's expression in immature/proliferating chondrocytes. The Col10a1 gene is specifically expressed in hypertrophic chondrocytes in which Sox9 is downregulated. How is differentiation phase-specific transcription of genes controlled in chondrocytes, particularly during hypertrophy? We found that SOX9 directly represses Col10a1 expression in immature/proliferating chondrocytes of the growth plate, so that its expression is restricted to hypertrophic chondrocytes. Discrimination of this concomitant opposing transcriptional control may involve cooperation between SOX9 and different partners such as GLI factors (effectors of hedgehog signaling). SOX9 control of chondrocyte maturation therefore may be integrated with hedgehog signaling. Mutations in human SOX9 cause the skeletal malformation syndrome campomelic dysplasia, which is attributed to the disruption of the chondrogenic differentiation program because of failure to express SOX9 target genes. This interpretation should be revised to include inappropriate expression of genes normally repressed by SOX9.
PMCID: PMC3207907  PMID: 22072985
14.  Temporal and Spatial Expression of Collagens During Murine Atrioventricular Heart Valve Development and Maintenance 
Heart valve function is achieved by organization of matrix components including collagens, yet the distribution of collagens in valvular structures is not well defined. Therefore, we examined the temporal and spatial expression of select fibril-, network-, beaded filament-forming, and FACIT collagens in endocardial cushions, remodeling, maturing, and adult murine atrioventricular heart valves. Of the genes examined, col1a1, col2a1, and col3a1 transcripts are most highly expressed in endocardial cushions. Expression of col1a1, col1a2, col2a1, and col3a1 remain high, along with col12a1 in remodeling valves. Maturing neonate valves predominantly express col1a1, col1a2, col3a1, col5a2, col11a1, and col12a1 within defined proximal and distal regions. In adult valves, collagen protein distribution is highly compartmentalized, with ColI and ColXII observed on the ventricular surface and ColIII and ColVa1 detected throughout the leaflets. Together, these expression data identify patterning of collagen types in developing and maintained heart valves, which likely relate to valve structure and function.
PMCID: PMC2579967  PMID: 18816857
collagen; heart; valves; extracellular matrix
15.  Stickler syndrome caused by COL2A1 mutations: genotype–phenotype correlation in a series of 100 patients 
Stickler syndrome is an autosomal dominant connective tissue disorder caused by mutations in different collagen genes. The aim of our study was to define more precisely the phenotype and genotype of Stickler syndrome type 1 by investigating a large series of patients with a heterozygous mutation in COL2A1. In 188 probands with the clinical diagnosis of Stickler syndrome, the COL2A1 gene was analyzed by either a mutation scanning technique or bidirectional fluorescent DNA sequencing. The effect of splice site alterations was investigated by analyzing mRNA. Multiplex ligation-dependent amplification analysis was used for the detection of intragenic deletions. We identified 77 different COL2A1 mutations in 100 affected individuals. Analysis of the splice site mutations showed unusual RNA isoforms, most of which contained a premature stop codon. Vitreous anomalies and retinal detachments were found more frequently in patients with a COL2A1 mutation compared with the mutation-negative group (P<0.01). Overall, 20 of 23 sporadic patients with a COL2A1 mutation had either a cleft palate or retinal detachment with vitreous anomalies. The presence of vitreous anomalies, retinal tears or detachments, cleft palate and a positive family history were shown to be good indicators for a COL2A1 defect. In conclusion, we confirm that Stickler syndrome type 1 is predominantly caused by loss-of-function mutations in the COL2A1 gene as >90% of the mutations were predicted to result in nonsense-mediated decay. On the basis of binary regression analysis, we developed a scoring system that may be useful when evaluating patients with Stickler syndrome.
PMCID: PMC2987380  PMID: 20179744
COL2A1; Stickler syndrome; genotype–phenotype correlation; type II collagenopathies; splice site mutation
16.  Clinical and molecular characterization of 40 patients with classic Ehlers–Danlos syndrome: identification of 18 COL5A1 and 2 COL5A2 novel mutations 
Classic Ehlers–Danlos syndrome (cEDS) is a rare autosomal dominant connective tissue disorder that is primarily characterized by skin hyperextensibility, abnormal wound healing/atrophic scars, and joint hypermobility. A recent study demonstrated that more than 90% of patients who satisfy all of these major criteria harbor a type V collagen (COLLV) defect.
This cohort included 40 patients with cEDS who were clinically diagnosed according to the Villefranche nosology. The flowchart that was adopted for mutation detection consisted of sequencing the COL5A1 gene and, if no mutation was detected, COL5A2 analysis. In the negative patients the presence of large genomic rearrangements in COL5A1 was investigated using MLPA, and positive results were confirmed via SNP-array analysis.
We report the clinical and molecular characterization of 40 patients from 28 families, consisting of 14 pediatric patients and 26 adults. A family history of cEDS was present in 9 patients. The majority of the patients fulfilled all the major diagnostic criteria for cEDS; atrophic scars were absent in 2 females, skin hyperextensibility was not detected in a male and joint hypermobility was negative in 8 patients (20% of the entire cohort). Wide inter- and intra-familial phenotypic heterogeneity was observed. We identified causal mutations with a detection rate of approximately 93%. In 25/28 probands, COL5A1 or COL5A2 mutations were detected. Twenty-one mutations were in the COL5A1 gene, 18 of which were novel (2 recurrent). Of these, 16 mutations led to nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) and to COLLV haploinsufficiency and 5 mutations were structural. Two novel COL5A2 splice mutations were detected in patients with the most severe phenotypes. The known p. (Arg312Cys) mutation in the COL1A1 gene was identified in one patient with vascular-like cEDS.
Our findings highlight that the three major criteria for cEDS are useful and sufficient for cEDS clinical diagnosis in the large majority of the patients. The borderline patients for whom these criteria fail can be diagnosed when minor signs of connective tissue diseases and family history are present and when genetic testing reveals a defect in COLLV. Our data also confirm that COL5A1 and COL5A2 are the major, if not the only, genes involved in cEDS.
PMCID: PMC3653713  PMID: 23587214
Classic Ehlers–Danlos syndrome; COL5A1; COL5A2; COL1A1; MLPA; Diagnostic flowchart
Surgery  2011;150(2):306-315.
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is a highly lethal disease in which a prominent desmoplastic reaction is a defining characteristic. Fibrillar collagens, such as collagen I and to a lesser extent, collagen III and V comprise the majority of this stromal fibrosis. Type VI collagen (COL6) forms a microfibrillar network associated with type I collagen fibrils. The expression of COL6 has been linked to inflammation and survival. Importantly, tumor-specific alternative splicing in COL6A3 has been identified in several cancers by genome exon arrays. We evaluated the expression and localization of COL6A3 in PDA and premalignant lesions and explored the presence of alternative splicing events.
We analyzed paired PDA-normal (n=18), IPMN (n=5), pancreatic cystadenoma (n=5), and eight PDA cell lines with RT-PCR, using unique primers that identify total COL6A3 gene and alternative splicing sites in several of its exons. Western blot analysis and immunohistochemistry were used to analyze the expression levels and localization of COL6A3 protein in the different lesions, and in two animal models of PDA.
COL6A3 protein levels were significantly upregulated in 77% of the paired PDA-adjacent tissue examined. COL6A3 was mainly present in the desmoplastic stroma of PDA, with high deposition around the malignant ducts and in between the sites of stromal fatty infiltration. Analysis of the COL6A3 splice variants showed tumor-specific consistent inclusion of exons 3 and 6 in 17 of the 18 (94%) paired PDA-adjacent tissues. Inclusion of exon 4 was exclusively tumor-specific, with barely detectable expression in the adjacent tissues. IPMN and pancreatic cystadenomas showed no expression of any of the examined exons. Total COL6A3 mRNA and exon 6 were identified in six PDA cell lines, but only two cell lines (MIA PACA-2 and ASPC-1) expressed exons 3 and 4. In both the xenograft and transgenic models of PDA, COL6A3 immunoreactivity was present in the stroma and some PDA cells.
We describe, for the first time, a dynamic process of tumor-specific alternative splicing in several exons of stromal COL6A3. Alternatively spliced proteins may contribute to the etiology or progression of cancer and may serve as markers for cancer diagnosis. Identification of COL6A3 isoforms as PDA-specific provides the basis for future studies to explore the oncogenic and diagnostic potential of these alternative splicing events.
PMCID: PMC3163121  PMID: 21719059
pancreatic cancer; COL6A3; stroma; microenvironment
18.  Transcriptome sequencing of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) notochord prior to development of the vertebrae provides clues to regulation of positional fate, chordoblast lineage and mineralisation 
BMC Genomics  2014;15:141.
In teleosts such as Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.), segmentation and subsequent mineralisation of the notochord during embryonic stages are essential for normal vertebrae formation. However, the molecular mechanisms leading to segmentation and mineralisation of the notochord are poorly understood. The aim of this study was to identify genes/pathways acting in gradients over time and along the anterior-posterior axis during notochord segmentation and immediately prior to mineralisation of the vertebral bodies in Atlantic salmon.
Notochord samples were collected from unsegmented, pre-segmented and segmented developmental stages. In each stage, the cellular core of the notochord was cut into three pieces along the longitudinal axis (anterior, mid, posterior). RNA was sequenced (22 million pair-end 100 bp/ library) and mapped to the salmon genome. 66569 transcripts were predicted and 55775 were annotated. In order to identify possible gradients leading to segmentation of the notochord, all 71 notochord-expressed hox genes were investigated, most of them displaying a typical anterior-posterior expression pattern along the notochord axis. The clustering of hox genes revealed a pattern that could be related to notochord segmentation. We further investigated how mineralisation is initiated in the notochord, and several factors related to chondrogenic lineage were identified (sox9, sox5, sox6, tgfb3, ihhb and col2a1), suggesting a cartilage-like character of the notochord. KEGG analysis of differentially expressed genes between stages revealed down-regulation of pathways associated with ECM, cell division, metabolism and development at onset of notochord segmentation. This implies that inhibitory signals produce segmentation of the notochord. One such potential inhibitory signal was identified, col11a2, which was detected in segments of non-mineralising notochord.
An incomplete salmon genome was successfully used to analyse RNA-seq data from the cellular core of the Atlantic salmon notochord. In transcriptome we found; hox gene patterns possibly linked to segmentation; down-regulation of pathways in the notochord at onset of segmentation; segmented expression of col11a2 in non-mineralised segments of the notochord; and a chondroblast-like footprint in the notochord.
PMCID: PMC3943441  PMID: 24548379
Atlantic salmon; Notochord; RNA-seq; col11a2; Hox
19.  Clinical and molecular genetics of Stickler syndrome 
Journal of Medical Genetics  1999;36(5):353-359.
Stickler syndrome is an autosomal dominant disorder with characteristic ophthalmological and orofacial features, deafness, and arthritis. Abnormalities of vitreous gel architecture are a pathognomonic feature, usually associated with high myopia which is congenital and non-progressive. There is a substantial risk of retinal detachment. Less common ophthalmological features include paravascular pigmented lattice degeneration and cataracts. Non-ocular features show great variation in expression. Children with Stickler syndrome typically have a flat midface with depressed nasal bridge, short nose, anteverted nares, and micrognathia. These features can become less pronounced with age. Midline clefting, if present, ranges in severity from a cleft of the soft palate to Pierre-Robin sequence. There is joint hypermobility which declines with age. Osteoarthritis develops typically in the third or fourth decade. Mild spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia is often apparent radiologically. Sensorineural deafness with high tone loss may be asymptomatic or mild. Occasional findings include slender extremities and long fingers. Stature and intellect are usually normal. Mitral valve prolapse was reported to be a common finding in one series but not in our experience. The majority of families with Stickler syndrome have mutations in the COL2A1 gene and show the characteristic type 1 vitreous phenotype. The remainder with the type 2 vitreous phenotype have mutations in COL11A1 or other loci yet to be identified. Mutations in COL11A2 can give rise to a syndrome with the systemic features of Stickler syndrome but no ophthalmological abnormality.

Keywords: Stickler syndrome; collagen; vitreous
PMCID: PMC1734362  PMID: 10353778
20.  Deletions within COL11A1 in Type 2 stickler syndrome detected by multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification (MLPA) 
BMC Medical Genetics  2013;14:48.
COL11A1 is a large complex gene around 250 kb in length and consisting of 68 exons. Pathogenic mutations in the gene can result in Stickler syndrome, Marshall syndrome or Fibrochondrogenesis. Many of the mutations resulting in either Stickler or Marshall syndrome alter splice sites and result in exon skipping, which because of the exon structure of collagen genes usually leaves the message in-frame. The mutant protein then exerts a dominant negative effect as it co-assembles with other collagen gene products. To date only one large deletion of 40 kb in the COL11A1, which was detected by RT-PCR, has been characterized. However, commonly used screening protocols, utilizing genomic amplification and exon sequencing, are unlikely to detect such large deletions. Consequently the frequency of this type of mutation is unknown.
Case presentations
We have used Multiplex Ligation-Dependent Probe Amplification (MLPA) in conjunction with exon amplification and sequencing, to analyze patients with clinical features of Stickler syndrome, and have detected six novel deletions that were not found by exon sequencing alone.
Exon deletions appear to represent a significant proportion of type 2 Stickler syndrome. This observation was previously unknown and so diagnostic screening of COL11A1 should include assays capable of detecting both large and small deletions, in addition to exon sequencing.
PMCID: PMC3652776  PMID: 23621912
COL11A1; MLPA; Molecular analysis; Stickler syndrome
21.  Development of a Functional Skin Matrix Requires Deposition of Collagen V Heterotrimers 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2004;24(13):6049-6057.
Collagen V is a minor component of the heterotypic I/III/V collagen fibrils and the defective product in most cases of classical Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS). The present study was undertaken to elucidate the impact of collagen V mutations on skin development, the most severely affected EDS tissues, using mice harboring a targeted deletion of the α2(V) collagen gene (Col5a2). Contrary to the original report, our studies indicate that the Col5a2 deletion (a.k.a. the pN allele) represents a functionally null mutation that affects matrix assembly through a complex sequence of events. First the mutation impairs assembly and/or secretion of the α1(V)2α2(V) heterotrimer with the result that the α1(V) homotrimer is the predominant species deposited into the matrix. Second, the α1(V) homotrimer is excluded from incorporation into the heterotypic collagen fibrils and this in turn severely impairs matrix organization. Third, the mutant matrix stimulates a compensatory loop by the α1(V) collagen gene that leads to additional deposition of α1(V) homotrimers. These data therefore underscore the importance of the collagen V heterotrimer in dermal fibrillogenesis. Furthermore, reduced thickness of the basement membranes underlying the epidermis and increased apoptosis of the stromal fibroblasts in pN/pN skin strongly indicate additional roles of collagen V in the development of a functional skin matrix.
PMCID: PMC480903  PMID: 15199158
22.  Evolution of the osteoblast: skeletogenesis in gar and zebrafish 
Although the vertebrate skeleton arose in the sea 500 million years ago, our understanding of the molecular fingerprints of chondrocytes and osteoblasts may be biased because it is informed mainly by research on land animals. In fact, the molecular fingerprint of teleost osteoblasts differs in key ways from that of tetrapods, but we do not know the origin of these novel gene functions. They either arose as neofunctionalization events after the teleost genome duplication (TGD), or they represent preserved ancestral functions that pre-date the TGD. Here, we provide evolutionary perspective to the molecular fingerprints of skeletal cells and assess the role of genome duplication in generating novel gene functions. We compared the molecular fingerprints of skeletogenic cells in two ray-finned fish: zebrafish (Danio rerio)--a teleost--and the spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus)--a "living fossil" representative of a lineage that diverged from the teleost lineage prior to the TGD (i.e., the teleost sister group). We analyzed developing embryos for expression of the structural collagen genes col1a2, col2a1, col10a1, and col11a2 in well-formed cartilage and bone, and studied expression of skeletal regulators, including the transcription factor genes sox9 and runx2, during mesenchymal condensation.
Results provided no evidence for the evolution of novel functions among gene duplicates in zebrafish compared to the gar outgroup, but our findings shed light on the evolution of the osteoblast. Zebrafish and gar chondrocytes both expressed col10a1 as they matured, but both species' osteoblasts also expressed col10a1, which tetrapod osteoblasts do not express. This novel finding, along with sox9 and col2a1 expression in developing osteoblasts of both zebrafish and gar, demonstrates that osteoblasts of both a teleost and a basally diverging ray-fin fish express components of the supposed chondrocyte molecular fingerprint.
Our surprising finding that the "chondrogenic" transcription factor sox9 is expressed in developing osteoblasts of both zebrafish and gar can help explain the expression of chondrocyte genes in osteoblasts of ray-finned fish. More broadly, our data suggest that the molecular fingerprint of the osteoblast, which largely is constrained among land animals, was not fixed during early vertebrate evolution.
PMCID: PMC3314580  PMID: 22390748
23.  The transcription factor Lc-Maf participates in Col27a1 regulation during chondrocyte maturation 
Experimental cell research  2009;315(13):2293-2300.
The transcription factor Lc-Maf, which is a splice variant of c-Maf, is expressed in cartilage undergoing endochondral ossification and participates in the regulation of type II collagen through a cartilage-specific Col2a1 enhancer element. Type XXVII and type XI collagens are also expressed in cartilage during endochondral ossification, and so enhancer/reporter assays were used to determine whether Lc-Maf could regulate cartilage-specific enhancers from the Col27a1 and Col11a2 genes. The Col27a1 enhancer was upregulated over 4-fold by Lc-Maf, while the Col11a2 enhancer was downregulated slightly. To confirm the results of these reporter assays, rat chondrosarcoma (RCS) cells were transiently transfected with an Lc-Maf expression plasmid, and quantitative RT-PCR was performed to measure the expression of endogenous Col27a1 and Col11a2 genes. Endogenous Col27a1 was upregulated 6-fold by Lc-Maf overexpression, while endogenous Col11a2 was unchanged. Finally, in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry were performed in the radius and ulna of embryonic day 17 mouse forelimbs undergoing endochondral ossification. Results demonstrated that Lc-Maf and Col27a1 mRNAs are coexpressed in proliferating and prehypertrophic regions, as would be predicted if Lc-Maf regulates Col27a1 expression. Type XXVII collagen protein was also most abundant in prehypertrophic and proliferating chondrocytes. Others have shown that mice that are null for Lc-Maf and c-Maf have expanded hypertrophic regions with reduced ossification and delayed vascularization. Separate studies have indicated that Col27a1 may serve as a scaffold for ossification and vascularization. The work presented here suggests that Lc-Maf may affect the process of endochondral ossification by participating in the regulation of Col27a1 expression.
PMCID: PMC3212405  PMID: 19414009
Lc-Maf; Col11a2; Col27a1; skeletal development; endochondral ossification; collagen
24.  Collagen type XI α1 facilitates head and neck squamous cell cancer growth and invasion 
British Journal of Cancer  2013;109(12):3049-3056.
Although it is well established that the extracellular matrix affects tumour progression, not much is known about the various components and their effect on head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) progression. Levels of collagen type XI α1 (colXIα1), a minor fibrillar collagen, have been shown to be increased in tumour compared with normal tissue in several cancers, including colorectal, breast, and non-small cell lung cancer. Currently, the functional significance of colXIα1 is not understood.
We examined the expression levels of colXIα1 mRNA and elucidated the functional role of colXIα1 in HNSCC. Cell proliferation, invasion, and migration were examined with and without colXIα1 knockdown with siRNA in HNSCC cells.
Our data demonstrate that colXIα1 expression is increased in tumour samples compared with levels in normal adjacent tissue in 16/23 HNSCC patients. In addition, colα11 is increased in HNSCC cell lines compared with normal immortalised epithelial cells and is increased in tumour-derived fibroblasts compared with normal fibroblasts. Using an siRNA approach, we demonstrate that colXIα1 contributes to proliferation, migration, and invasion of HNSCC.
Our cumulative findings suggest that colXIα1 contributes to HNSCC tumorigenesis and may serve as a potential therapeutic target.
PMCID: PMC3859935  PMID: 24231953
collagen Type XI α1; head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; invasion; cancer-associated fibroblasts; tumour progression; extracellular matrix proteins
25.  A Krüppel-Associated Box-Zinc Finger Protein, NT2, Represses Cell-Type-Specific Promoter Activity of the α2(XI) Collagen Gene 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2002;22(12):4256-4267.
Type XI collagen is composed of three chains, α1(XI), α2(XI), and α3(XI), and plays a critical role in the formation of cartilage collagen fibrils and in skeletal morphogenesis. It was previously reported that the −530-bp promoter segment of the α2(XI) collagen gene (Col11a2) was sufficient for cartilage-specific expression and that a 24-bp sequence from this segment was able to switch promoter activity from neural tissues to cartilage in transgenic mice when this sequence was placed in the heterologous neurofilament light gene (NFL) promoter. To identify a protein factor that bound to the 24-bp sequence of the Col11a2 promoter, we screened a mouse limb bud cDNA expression library in the yeast one-hybrid screening system and obtained the cDNA clone NT2. Sequence analysis revealed that NT2 is a zinc finger protein consisting of a Krüppel-associated box (KRAB) and is a homologue of human FPM315, which was previously isolated by random cloning and sequencing. The KRAB domain has been found in a number of zinc finger proteins and implicated as a transcriptional repression domain, although few target genes for KRAB-containing zinc finger proteins has been identified. Here, we demonstrate that NT2 functions as a negative regulator of Col11a2. In situ hybridization analysis of developing mouse cartilage showed that NT2 mRNA is highly expressed by hypertrophic chondrocytes but is minimally expressed by resting and proliferating chondrocytes, in an inverse correlation with the expression patterns of Col11a2. Gel shift assays showed that NT2 bound a specific sequence within the 24-bp site of the Col11a2 promoter. We found that Col11a2 promoter activity was inhibited by transfection of the NT2 expression vector in RSC cells, a chondrosarcoma cell line. The expression vector for mutant NT2 lacking the KRAB domain failed to inhibit Col11a2 promoter activity. These results demonstrate that KRAB-zinc finger protein NT2 inhibits transcription of its physiological target gene, suggesting a novel regulatory mechanism of cartilage-specific expression of Col11a2.
PMCID: PMC133841  PMID: 12024037

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