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1.  Human-specific evolution of novel SRGAP2 genes by incomplete segmental duplication 
Cell  2012;149(4):912-922.
SUMMARY
Gene duplication is an important source of phenotypic change and adaptive evolution. We use a novel genomic approach to identify highly identical sequence missing from the reference genome, confirming the cortical development gene Slit-Robo Rho GTPase activating protein 2 (SRGAP2) duplicated three times in humans. We show that the promoter and first nine exons of SRGAP2 duplicated from 1q32.1 (SRGAP2A) to 1q21.1 (SRGAP2B) ~3.4 million years ago (mya). Two larger duplications later copied SRGAP2B to chromosome 1p12 (SRGAP2C) and to proximal 1q21.1 (SRGAP2D), ~2.4 and ~1 mya, respectively. Sequence and expression analysis shows SRGAP2C is the most likely duplicate to encode a functional protein and among the most fixed human-specific duplicate genes. Our data suggest a mechanism where incomplete duplication created a novel function —at birth, antagonizing parental SRGAP2 function 2–3 mya a time corresponding to the transition from Australopithecus to Homo and the beginning of neocortex expansion.
doi:10.1016/j.cell.2012.03.033
PMCID: PMC3365555  PMID: 22559943
2.  A Rare Myelin Protein Zero (MPZ) Variant Alters Enhancer Activity In Vitro and In Vivo 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e14346.
Background
Myelin protein zero (MPZ) is a critical structural component of myelin in the peripheral nervous system. The MPZ gene is regulated, in part, by the transcription factors SOX10 and EGR2. Mutations in MPZ, SOX10, and EGR2 have been implicated in demyelinating peripheral neuropathies, suggesting that components of this transcriptional network are candidates for harboring disease-causing mutations (or otherwise functional variants) that affect MPZ expression.
Methodology
We utilized a combination of multi-species sequence comparisons, transcription factor-binding site predictions, targeted human DNA re-sequencing, and in vitro and in vivo enhancer assays to study human non-coding MPZ variants.
Principal Findings
Our efforts revealed a variant within the first intron of MPZ that resides within a previously described SOX10 binding site is associated with decreased enhancer activity, and alters binding of nuclear proteins. Additionally, the genomic segment harboring this variant directs tissue-relevant reporter gene expression in zebrafish.
Conclusions
This is the first reported MPZ variant within a cis-acting transcriptional regulatory element. While we were unable to implicate this variant in disease onset, our data suggests that similar non-coding sequences should be screened for mutations in patients with neurological disease. Furthermore, our multi-faceted approach for examining the functional significance of non-coding variants can be readily generalized to study other loci important for myelin structure and function.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014346
PMCID: PMC3002941  PMID: 21179557
3.  Balancing Selection Maintains a Form of ERAP2 that Undergoes Nonsense-Mediated Decay and Affects Antigen Presentation 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(10):e1001157.
A remarkable characteristic of the human major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is its extreme genetic diversity, which is maintained by balancing selection. In fact, the MHC complex remains one of the best-known examples of natural selection in humans, with well-established genetic signatures and biological mechanisms for the action of selection. Here, we present genetic and functional evidence that another gene with a fundamental role in MHC class I presentation, endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidase 2 (ERAP2), has also evolved under balancing selection and contains a variant that affects antigen presentation. Specifically, genetic analyses of six human populations revealed strong and consistent signatures of balancing selection affecting ERAP2. This selection maintains two highly differentiated haplotypes (Haplotype A and Haplotype B), with frequencies 0.44 and 0.56, respectively. We found that ERAP2 expressed from Haplotype B undergoes differential splicing and encodes a truncated protein, leading to nonsense-mediated decay of the mRNA. To investigate the consequences of ERAP2 deficiency on MHC presentation, we correlated surface MHC class I expression with ERAP2 genotypes in primary lymphocytes. Haplotype B homozygotes had lower levels of MHC class I expressed on the surface of B cells, suggesting that naturally occurring ERAP2 deficiency affects MHC presentation and immune response. Interestingly, an ERAP2 paralog, endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidase 1 (ERAP1), also shows genetic signatures of balancing selection. Together, our findings link the genetic signatures of selection with an effect on splicing and a cellular phenotype. Although the precise selective pressure that maintains polymorphism is unknown, the demonstrated differences between the ERAP2 splice forms provide important insights into the potential mechanism for the action of selection.
Author Summary
It has long been known that the extremely high levels of genetic diversity present in the major histocompatibility locus (MHC) are due to balancing selection, a type of natural selection that maintains advantageous genetic diversity in populations. The MHC encodes for molecules required for a type of antigen presentation that mediates detection of infected and cancerous cells by the immune system; the genetic diversity of the MHC thus ensures an adequate response to the wide variety of pathogens that humans encounter. Here, we show that other genes involved in the same antigen-presentation pathway are also subject to balancing selection in humans. Specifically, we show that balancing selection acts to maintain two forms of the endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidase 2 gene (ERAP2), which encodes a protein also involved in antigen presentation. Although the two ERAP2 forms are present in a similar frequency (close to 0.5), they are associated with differences with respect to the levels of MHC molecules on the cell surface of immune cells. In summary, our findings show that natural selection maintains variants of ERAP2 that affect immune surveillance; they also establish ERAP2 as one of the few examples of balancing selection in humans where the selected variant, its functional consequences, and its influence in interpersonal diversity are known.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1001157
PMCID: PMC2954825  PMID: 20976248
4.  A Common Variant Associated with Dyslexia Reduces Expression of the KIAA0319 Gene 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(3):e1000436.
Numerous genetic association studies have implicated the KIAA0319 gene on human chromosome 6p22 in dyslexia susceptibility. The causative variant(s) remains unknown but may modulate gene expression, given that (1) a dyslexia-associated haplotype has been implicated in the reduced expression of KIAA0319, and (2) the strongest association has been found for the region spanning exon 1 of KIAA0319. Here, we test the hypothesis that variant(s) responsible for reduced KIAA0319 expression resides on the risk haplotype close to the gene's transcription start site. We identified seven single-nucleotide polymorphisms on the risk haplotype immediately upstream of KIAA0319 and determined that three of these are strongly associated with multiple reading-related traits. Using luciferase-expressing constructs containing the KIAA0319 upstream region, we characterized the minimal promoter and additional putative transcriptional regulator regions. This revealed that the minor allele of rs9461045, which shows the strongest association with dyslexia in our sample (max p-value = 0.0001), confers reduced luciferase expression in both neuronal and non-neuronal cell lines. Additionally, we found that the presence of this rs9461045 dyslexia-associated allele creates a nuclear protein-binding site, likely for the transcriptional silencer OCT-1. Knocking down OCT-1 expression in the neuronal cell line SHSY5Y using an siRNA restores KIAA0319 expression from the risk haplotype to nearly that seen from the non-risk haplotype. Our study thus pinpoints a common variant as altering the function of a dyslexia candidate gene and provides an illustrative example of the strategic approach needed to dissect the molecular basis of complex genetic traits.
Author Summary
Dyslexia, or reading disability, is a common disorder caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Genetic studies have implicated a number of genes as candidates for playing a role in dyslexia. We functionally characterized one such gene (KIAA0319) to identify variant(s) that might affect gene expression and contribute to the disorder. We discovered a variant residing outside of the protein-coding region of KIAA0319 that reduces expression of the gene. This variant creates a binding site for the transcription factor OCT-1. Previous studies have shown that OCT-1 binding to a specific DNA sequence upstream of a gene can reduce the expression of that gene. In this case, reduced KIAA0319 expression could lead to improper development of regions of the brain involved in reading ability. This is the first study to identify a functional variant implicated in dyslexia. More broadly, our study illustrates the steps that can be utilized for identifying mutations causing other complex genetic disorders.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000436
PMCID: PMC2653637  PMID: 19325871

Results 1-4 (4)