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1.  Identifying the Cellular Targets of Drug Action in the Central Nervous System Following Corticosteroid Therapy 
ACS Chemical Neuroscience  2013;5(1):51-63.
Corticosteroid (CS) therapy is used widely in the treatment of a range of pathologies, but can delay production of myelin, the insulating sheath around central nervous system nerve fibers. The cellular targets of CS action are not fully understood, that is, “direct” action on cells involved in myelin genesis [oligodendrocytes and their progenitors the oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs)] versus “indirect” action on other neural cells. We evaluated the effects of the widely used CS dexamethasone (DEX) on purified OPCs and oligodendrocytes, employing complementary histological and transcriptional analyses. Histological assessments showed no DEX effects on OPC proliferation or oligodendrocyte genesis/maturation (key processes underpinning myelin genesis). Immunostaining and RT-PCR analyses show that both cell types express glucocorticoid receptor (GR; the target for DEX action), ruling out receptor expression as a causal factor in the lack of DEX-responsiveness. GRs function as ligand-activated transcription factors, so we simultaneously analyzed DEX-induced transcriptional responses using microarray analyses; these substantiated the histological findings, with limited gene expression changes in DEX-treated OPCs and oligodendrocytes. With identical treatment, microglial cells showed profound and global changes post-DEX addition; an unexpected finding was the identification of the transcription factor Olig1, a master regulator of myelination, as a DEX responsive gene in microglia. Our data indicate that CS-induced myelination delays are unlikely to be due to direct drug action on OPCs or oligodendrocytes, and may occur secondary to alterations in other neural cells, such as the immune component. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first comparative molecular and cellular analysis of CS effects in glial cells, to investigate the targets of this major class of anti-inflammatory drugs as a basis for myelination deficits.
PMCID: PMC3894723  PMID: 24147833
Oligodendrocyte; Olig1; corticosteroid; glucocorticoid receptor; microglia; microarray
2.  Homopolymer tract organization in the human malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum and related Apicomplexan parasites 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):848.
Homopolymeric tracts, particularly poly dA.dT, are enriched within the intergenic sequences of eukaryotic genomes where they appear to act as intrinsic regulators of nucleosome positioning. A previous study of the incomplete genome of the human malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum reports a higher than expected enrichment of poly dA.dT tracts, far above that anticipated even in this highly AT rich genome. Here we report an analysis of the relative frequency, length and spatial arrangement of homopolymer tracts for the complete P. falciparum genome, extending this analysis to twelve additional genomes of Apicomplexan parasites important to human and animal health. In addition, using nucleosome-positioning data available for P. falciparum, we explore the correlation of poly dA.dT tracts with nucleosome-positioning data over key expression landmarks within intergenic regions.
We describe three apparent lineage-specific patterns of homopolymeric tract organization within the intergenic regions of these Apicomplexan parasites. Moreover, a striking pattern of enrichment of overly long poly dA.dT tracts in the intergenic regions of Plasmodium spp. uniquely extends into protein coding sequences. There is a conserved spatial arrangement of poly dA.dT immediately flanking open reading frames and over predicted core promoter sites. These key landmarks are all relatively depleted in nucleosomes in P. falciparum, as would be expected for poly dA.dT acting as nucleosome exclusion sequences.
Previous comparative studies of homopolymer tract organization emphasize evolutionary diversity; this is the first report of such an analysis within a single phylum. Our data provide insights into the evolution of homopolymeric tracts and the selective pressures at play in their maintenance and expansion.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-848) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4194402  PMID: 25281558
Poly dA.dT; Intergenic regions; Malaria; Nucleosome; Gene expression
3.  A consensus approach to vertebrate de novo transcriptome assembly from RNA-seq data: assembly of the duck (Anas platyrhynchos) transcriptome 
Frontiers in Genetics  2014;5:190.
For vertebrate organisms where a reference genome is not available, de novo transcriptome assembly enables a cost effective insight into the identification of tissue specific or differentially expressed genes and variation of the coding part of the genome. However, since there are a number of different tools and parameters that can be used to reconstruct transcripts, it is difficult to determine an optimal method. Here we suggest a pipeline based on (1) assessing the performance of three different assembly tools (2) using both single and multiple k-mer (MK) approaches (3) examining the influence of the number of reads used in the assembly (4) merging assemblies from different tools. We use an example dataset from the vertebrate Anas platyrhynchos domestica (Pekin duck). We find that taking a subset of data enables a robust assembly to be produced by multiple methods without the need for very high memory capacity. The use of reads mapped back to transcripts (RMBT) and CEGMA (Core Eukaryotic Genes Mapping Approach) provides useful metrics to determine the completeness of assembly obtained. For this dataset the use of MK in the assembly generated a more complete assembly as measured by greater number of RMBT and CEGMA score. Merged single k-mer assemblies are generally smaller but consist of longer transcripts, suggesting an assembly consisting of fewer fragmented transcripts. We suggest that the use of a subset of reads during assembly allows the relatively rapid investigation of assembly characteristics and can guide the user to the most appropriate transcriptome for particular downstream use. Transcriptomes generated by the compared assembly methods and the final merged assembly are freely available for download at
PMCID: PMC4070175  PMID: 25009556
RNA-seq; de novo transcriptome; assembly; Illumina; high-throughput sequencing
4.  Characterisation of the horse transcriptome from immunologically active tissues 
PeerJ  2014;2:e382.
The immune system of the horse has not been well studied, despite the fact that the horse displays several features such as sensitivity to bacterial lipopolysaccharide that make them in many ways a more suitable model of some human disorders than the current rodent models. The difficulty of working with large animal models has however limited characterisation of gene expression in the horse immune system with current annotations for the equine genome restricted to predictions from other mammals and the few described horse proteins. This paper outlines sequencing of 184 million transcriptome short reads from immunologically active tissues of three horses including the genome reference “Twilight”. In a comparison with the Ensembl horse genome annotation, we found 8,763 potentially novel isoforms.
PMCID: PMC4017814  PMID: 24860704
Equus caballus; RNA-Seq; Transcriptome assembly
5.  Molecular Characterization of Adipose Tissue in the African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91717.
Adipose tissue (AT) is a dynamic and flexible organ with regulatory roles in physiological functions including metabolism, reproduction and inflammation; secreted adipokines, including leptin, and fatty acids facilitate many of these roles. The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is experiencing serious challenges to optimal reproduction in captivity. The physiological and molecular basis of this impaired fertility remains unknown. AT production of leptin is a crucial molecular link between nutritional status, adiposity and fertility in many species. We propose that leptin has a similar function in the African elephant. African elephant visceral and subcutaneous adipose tissue (AT) was obtained from both sexes and a range of ages including females with known pregnancy status. RNA was extracted and histological sections created and analyzed by microarray, PCR and immunohistochemistry respectively. Gas-chromatography was used to determine the fatty acid composition of AT. Microarray expression profiling was used to compare gene expression profiles of AT from pre-pubertal versus reproductively competent adult African elephants. This study demonstrates, for the first time, leptin mRNA and protein expression in African elephant AT. The derived protein sequence of the elephant leptin protein was exploited to determine its relationship within the class I helical cytokine superfamily, which indicates that elephant leptin is most closely related to the leptin orthologs of Oryctolagus cuniculus (European rabbit), Lepus oiostolus (woolly hare), and members of the Ochotonidae (Pika). Immunohistological analysis identified considerable leptin staining within the cytoplasm of adipocytes. Significant differences in fatty acid profiles between pregnant and non-pregnant animals were revealed, most notably a reduction in both linoleic and α linoleic acid in pregnant animals. This report forms the basis for future studies to address the effect of nutrient composition and body condition on reproduction in captive and wild elephants.
PMCID: PMC3954733  PMID: 24633017
6.  Mutations in CCDC39 and CCDC40 are the major cause of primary ciliary dyskinesia with axonemal disorganisation and absent inner dynein arms 
Human mutation  2013;34(3):462-472.
Primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD) is a genetically heterogeneous disorder caused by cilia and sperm dysmotility. About 12% of cases show perturbed 9+2 microtubule cilia structure and inner dynein arm (IDA) loss, historically termed ‘radial spoke defect’. We sequenced CCDC39 and CCDC40 in 54 ‘radial spoke defect’ families, as these are the two genes identified so far to cause this defect. We discovered biallelic mutations in a remarkable 69% (37/54) of families, including identification of 25 (19 novel) mutant alleles (12 in CCDC39 and 13 in CCDC40). All the mutations were nonsense, splice and frameshift predicting early protein truncation, which suggests this defect is caused by ‘null’ alleles conferring complete protein loss. Most families (73%; 27/37) had homozygous mutations, including families from outbred populations. A major putative hotspot mutation was identified, CCDC40 c.248delC, as well as several other possible hotspot mutations. Together, these findings highlight the key role of CCDC39 and CCDC40 in PCD with axonemal disorganisation and IDA loss, and these genes represent major candidates for genetic testing in families affected by this ciliary phenotype. We show that radial spoke structures are largely intact in these patients and propose this ciliary ultrastructural abnormality be referred to as ‘IDA and nexin-dynein regulatory complex (N-DRC) defect’, rather than ‘radial spoke defect’.
PMCID: PMC3630464  PMID: 23255504
primary ciliary dyskinesia; cilia; CCDC39; CCDC40; radial spoke; dynein regulatory complex; nexin link
7.  Targeted NGS gene panel identifies mutations in RSPH1 causing primary ciliary dyskinesia and a common mechanism for ciliary central pair agenesis due to radial spoke defects 
Human Molecular Genetics  2014;23(13):3362-3374.
Primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD) is an inherited chronic respiratory obstructive disease with randomized body laterality and infertility, resulting from cilia and sperm dysmotility. PCD is characterized by clinical variability and extensive genetic heterogeneity, associated with different cilia ultrastructural defects and mutations identified in >20 genes. Next generation sequencing (NGS) technologies therefore present a promising approach for genetic diagnosis which is not yet in routine use. We developed a targeted panel-based NGS pipeline to identify mutations by sequencing of selected candidate genes in 70 genetically undefined PCD patients. This detected loss-of-function RSPH1 mutations in four individuals with isolated central pair (CP) agenesis and normal body laterality, from two unrelated families. Ultrastructural analysis in RSPH1-mutated cilia revealed transposition of peripheral outer microtubules into the ‘empty’ CP space, accompanied by a distinctive intermittent loss of the central pair microtubules. We find that mutations in RSPH1, RSPH4A and RSPH9, which all encode homologs of components of the ‘head’ structure of ciliary radial spoke complexes identified in Chlamydomonas, cause clinical phenotypes that appear to be indistinguishable except at the gene level. By high-resolution immunofluorescence we identified a loss of RSPH4A and RSPH9 along with RSPH1 from RSPH1-mutated cilia, suggesting RSPH1 mutations may result in loss of the entire spoke head structure. CP loss is seen in up to 28% of PCD cases, in whom laterality determination specified by CP-less embryonic node cilia remains undisturbed. We propose this defect could arise from instability or agenesis of the ciliary central microtubules due to loss of their normal radial spoke head tethering.
PMCID: PMC4049301  PMID: 24518672
8.  Identification of DNA methylation biomarkers from Infinium arrays 
Frontiers in Genetics  2012;3:161.
Epigenetic modifications of DNA, such as cytosine methylation are differentially abundant in diseases such as cancer. A goal for clinical research is finding sites that are differentially methylated between groups of samples to act as potential biomarkers for disease outcome. However, clinical samples are often limited in availability, represent a heterogeneous collection of cells or are of uncertain clinical class. Array-based methods for identification of methylation provide a cost-effective method to survey a proportion of the methylome at single base resolution. The Illumina Infinium array has become a popular and reliable high throughput method in this field and are proving useful in the identification of biomarkers for disease. Here, we compare a commonly used statistical test with a new intuitive and flexible computational approach to quickly detect differentially methylated sites. The method rapidly identifies and ranks candidate lists with greatest inter-group variability whilst controlling for intra-group variability. Intuitive and biologically relevant filters can be imposed to quickly identify sites and genes of interest.
PMCID: PMC3427494  PMID: 22936948
DNA methylation array; Infinium 450k; biomarker discovery; differential methylation; epigenetics; DNA methylome; epigenomics; NIMBL
9.  Comparison of Clustering Methods for Investigation of Genome-Wide Methylation Array Data 
The use of genome-wide methylation arrays has proved very informative to investigate both clinical and biological questions in human epigenomics. The use of clustering methods either for exploration of these data or to compare to an a priori grouping, e.g., normal versus disease allows assessment of groupings of data without user bias. However no consensus on the methods to use for clustering of methylation array approaches has been reached. To determine the most appropriate clustering method for analysis of illumina array methylation data, a collection of data sets was simulated and used to compare clustering methods. Both hierarchical clustering and non-hierarchical clustering methods (k-means, k-medoids, and fuzzy clustering algorithms) were compared using a range of distance and linkage methods. As no single method consistently outperformed others across different simulations, we propose a method to capture the best clustering outcome based on an additional measure, the silhouette width. This approach produced a consistently higher cluster accuracy compared to using any one method in isolation.
PMCID: PMC3268382  PMID: 22303382
hierarchical; k-means; k-medoids; epigenomics; epigenetics; illumina; infinium
10.  Evolutionary expansion and anatomical specialization of synapse proteome complexity 
Nature neuroscience  2008;11(7):799-806.
Understanding the origins and evolution of synapses may provide insight into species diversity and organisation of the brain. Using comparative proteomics and genomics we examined the evolution of the postsynaptic density (PSD) and MAGUK associated signalling complexes (MASCs) underlying learning and memory. PSD/MASC orthologues found in yeast perform basic cellular functions regulating protein synthesis and structural plasticity. Striking changes in signalling complexity were observed at the yeast:metazoan and invertebrate:vertebrate boundaries, with expansion of key synapse components, notably receptors, adhesion/cytoskeletal and scaffold proteins. Proteomic comparison of Drosophila and mouse MASCs revealed species-specific adaptation with greater signalling complexity in mouse. Although synapse components were conserved amongst diverse vertebrate species, mapping mRNA and protein expression within the mouse brain showed vertebrate-specific components preferentially contributed to differences between brain regions. We propose that evolution of synapse complexity around a core proto-synapse has contributed to invertebrate–vertebrate differences and to brain specialisation.
PMCID: PMC3624047  PMID: 18536710
11.  Insights into the evolution of Darwin’s finches from comparative analysis of the Geospiza magnirostris genome sequence 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:95.
A classical example of repeated speciation coupled with ecological diversification is the evolution of 14 closely related species of Darwin’s (Galápagos) finches (Thraupidae, Passeriformes). Their adaptive radiation in the Galápagos archipelago took place in the last 2–3 million years and some of the molecular mechanisms that led to their diversification are now being elucidated. Here we report evolutionary analyses of genome of the large ground finch, Geospiza magnirostris.
13,291 protein-coding genes were predicted from a 991.0 Mb G. magnirostris genome assembly. We then defined gene orthology relationships and constructed whole genome alignments between the G. magnirostris and other vertebrate genomes. We estimate that 15% of genomic sequence is functionally constrained between G. magnirostris and zebra finch. Genic evolutionary rate comparisons indicate that similar selective pressures acted along the G. magnirostris and zebra finch lineages suggesting that historical effective population size values have been similar in both lineages. 21 otherwise highly conserved genes were identified that each show evidence for positive selection on amino acid changes in the Darwin's finch lineage. Two of these genes (Igf2r and Pou1f1) have been implicated in beak morphology changes in Darwin’s finches. Five of 47 genes showing evidence of positive selection in early passerine evolution have cilia related functions, and may be examples of adaptively evolving reproductive proteins.
These results provide insights into past evolutionary processes that have shaped G. magnirostris genes and its genome, and provide the necessary foundation upon which to build population genomics resources that will shed light on more contemporaneous adaptive and non-adaptive processes that have contributed to the evolution of the Darwin’s finches.
PMCID: PMC3575239  PMID: 23402223
Genomics; Evolution; Darwin’s finches; Large ground finch; Geospiza magnirostris
12.  A Comparative Approach to Understanding Tissue-Specific Expression of Uncoupling Protein 1 Expression in Adipose Tissue 
Frontiers in Genetics  2013;3:304.
The thermoregulatory function of brown adipose tissue (BAT) is due to the tissue-specific expression of uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) which is thought to have evolved in early mammals. We report that a CpG island close to the UCP1 transcription start site is highly conserved in all 29 vertebrates examined apart from the mouse and xenopus. Using methylation sensitive restriction digest and bisulfite mapping we show that the CpG island in both the bovine and human is largely un-methylated and is not related to differences in UCP1 expression between white and BAT. Tissue-specific expression of UCP1 has been proposed to be regulated by a conserved 5′ distal enhancer which has been reported to be absent in marsupials. We demonstrate that the enhancer, is also absent in five eutherians as well as marsupials, monotremes, amphibians, and fish, is present in pigs despite UCP1 having become a pseudogene, and that absence of the enhancer element does not relate to BAT-specific UCP1 expression. We identify an additional putative 5′ regulatory unit which is conserved in 14 eutherian species but absent in other eutherians and vertebrates, but again unrelated to UCP1 expression. We conclude that despite clear evidence of conservation of regulatory elements in the UCP1 5′ untranslated region, this does not appear to be related to species or tissues-specific expression of UCP1.
PMCID: PMC3535714  PMID: 23293654
CpG islands; methylation; uncoupling protein 1; phylogenic analysis
13.  Adaptive evolution of Toll-like receptor 5 in domesticated mammals 
Previous studies have proposed that mammalian toll like receptors (TLRs) have evolved under diversifying selection due to their role in pathogen detection. To determine if this is the case, we examined the extent of adaptive evolution in the TLR5 gene in both individual species and defined clades of the mammalia.
In support of previous studies, we find evidence of adaptive evolution of mammalian TLR5. However, we also show that TLR5 genes of domestic livestock have a concentration of single nucleotide polymorphisms suggesting a specific signature of adaptation. Using codon models of evolution we have identified a concentration of rapidly evolving codons within the TLR5 extracellular domain a site of interaction between host and the bacterial surface protein flagellin.
The results suggest that interactions between pathogen and host may be driving adaptive change in TLR5 by competition between species. In support of this, we have identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) in sheep and cattle TLR5 genes that are co-localised and co-incident with the predicted adaptive codons suggesting that adaptation in this region of the TLR5 gene is on-going in domestic species.
PMCID: PMC3483281  PMID: 22827462
Toll-like receptor; SNP; Adaptive evolution; Positive selection; Sheep; Cattle
15.  Endogenous retroviruses in primates 
Retrovirology  2011;8(Suppl 2):P7.
PMCID: PMC3236961
16.  Knockdown of embryonic myosin heavy chain reveals an essential role in the morphology and function of the developing heart 
Development (Cambridge, England)  2011;138(18):3955-3966.
The expression and function of embryonic myosin heavy chain (eMYH) has not been investigated within the early developing heart. This is despite the knowledge that other structural proteins, such as alpha and beta myosin heavy chains and cardiac alpha actin, play crucial roles in atrial septal development and cardiac function. Most cases of atrial septal defects and cardiomyopathy are not associated with a known causative gene, suggesting that further analysis into candidate genes is required. Expression studies localised eMYH in the developing chick heart. eMYH knockdown was achieved using morpholinos in a temporal manner and functional studies were carried out using electrical and calcium signalling methodologies. Knockdown in the early embryo led to abnormal atrial septal development and heart enlargement. Intriguingly, action potentials of the eMYH knockdown hearts were abnormal in comparison with the alpha and beta myosin heavy chain knockdowns and controls. Although myofibrillogenesis appeared normal, in knockdown hearts the tissue integrity was affected owing to apparent focal points of myocyte loss and an increase in cell death. An expression profile of human skeletal myosin heavy chain genes suggests that human myosin heavy chain 3 is the functional homologue of the chick eMYH gene. These data provide compelling evidence that eMYH plays a crucial role in important processes in the early developing heart and, hence, is a candidate causative gene for atrial septal defects and cardiomyopathy.
PMCID: PMC3160091  PMID: 21862559
Atrial septal development; Cardiomyopathy; Myosin; Chick
17.  Quantitative, high-resolution epigenetic profiling of CpG loci identifies associations with cord blood plasma homocysteine and birth weight in humans 
Epigenetics  2011;6(1):86-94.
Supplementation with folic acid during pregnancy is known to reduce the risk of neural tube defects and low birth weight. It is thought that folate and other one-carbon intermediates might secure these clinical effects via DNA methylation. We examined the effects of folate on the human methylome using quantitative interrogation of 27,578 CpG loci associated with 14,496 genes at single-nucleotide resolution across 12 fetal cord blood samples. Consistent with previous studies, the majority of CpG dinucleotides located within CpG islands exhibited hypomethylation while those outside CpG islands showed mid-high methylation. However, for the first time in human samples, unbiased analysis of methylation across samples revealed a significant correlation of methylation patterns with plasma homocysteine, LINE-1 methylation and birth weight centile. Additionally, CpG methylation significantly correlated with either birth weight or LINE-1 methylation were predominantly located in CpG islands. These data indicate that levels of folate-associated intermediates in cord blood reflect their influence and consequences for the fetal epigenome and potentially on pregnancy outcome. In these cases, their influence might be exerted during late gestation or reflect those present during the peri-conceptual period.
PMCID: PMC3052917  PMID: 20864804
cord blood; birth weight; folic acid; homocysteine; BeadArray; hierarchical clustering; Illumina
18.  Hsp-90 and the biology of nematodes 
Hsp-90 from the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is unique in that it fails to bind to the specific Hsp-90 inhibitor, geldanamycin (GA). Here we surveyed 24 different free-living or parasitic nematodes with the aim of determining whether C. elegans Hsp-90 was the exception or the norm amongst the nematodes. We combined these data with codon evolution models in an attempt to identify whether hsp-90 from GA-binding and non-binding species has evolved under different evolutionary constraints.
We show that GA-binding is associated with life history: free-living nematodes and those parasitic species with free-living larval stages failed to bind GA. In contrast, obligate parasites and those worms in which the free-living stage in the environment is enclosed within a resistant egg, possess a GA-binding Hsp-90. We analysed Hsp-90 sequences from fifteen nematode species to determine whether nematode hsp-90s have undergone adaptive evolution that influences GA-binding. Our data provide evidence of rapid diversifying selection in the evolution of the hsp-90 gene along three separate lineages, and identified a number of residues showing significant evidence of adaptive evolution. However, we were unable to prove that the selection observed is correlated with the ability to bind geldanamycin or not.
Hsp-90 is a multi-functional protein and the rapid evolution of the hsp-90 gene presumably correlates with other key cellular functions. Factors other than primary amino acid sequence may influence the ability of Hsp-90 to bind to geldanamycin.
PMCID: PMC2771018  PMID: 19849843
19.  The role of positive selection in determining the molecular cause of species differences in disease 
Related species, such as humans and chimpanzees, often experience the same disease with varying degrees of pathology, as seen in the cases of Alzheimer's disease, or differing symptomatology as in AIDS. Furthermore, certain diseases such as schizophrenia, epithelial cancers and autoimmune disorders are far more frequent in humans than in other species for reasons not associated with lifestyle. Genes that have undergone positive selection during species evolution are indicative of functional adaptations that drive species differences. Thus we investigate whether biomedical disease differences between species can be attributed to positively selected genes.
We identified genes that putatively underwent positive selection during the evolution of humans and four mammals which are often used to model human diseases (mouse, rat, chimpanzee and dog). We show that genes predicted to have been subject to positive selection pressure during human evolution are implicated in diseases such as epithelial cancers, schizophrenia, autoimmune diseases and Alzheimer's disease, all of which differ in prevalence and symptomatology between humans and their mammalian relatives.
In agreement with previous studies, the chimpanzee lineage was found to have more genes under positive selection than any of the other lineages. In addition, we found new evidence to support the hypothesis that genes that have undergone positive selection tend to interact with each other. This is the first such evidence to be detected widely among mammalian genes and may be important in identifying molecular pathways causative of species differences.
Our dataset of genes predicted to have been subject to positive selection in five species serves as an informative resource that can be consulted prior to selecting appropriate animal models during drug target validation. We conclude that studying the evolution of functional and biomedical disease differences between species is an important way to gain insight into their molecular causes and may provide a method to predict when animal models do not mirror human biology.
PMCID: PMC2576240  PMID: 18837980
20.  Duplicated Paralogous Genes Subject to Positive Selection in the Genome of Trypanosoma brucei 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(5):e2295.
Whole genome studies have highlighted duplicated genes as important substrates for adaptive evolution. We have investigated adaptive evolution in this class of genes in the human parasite Trypanosoma brucei, as indicated by the ratio of non-synonymous (amino-acid changing) to synonymous (amino acid retaining) nucleotide substitution rates.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We have identified duplicated genes that are most rapidly evolving in this important human parasite. This is the first attempt to investigate adaptive evolution in this species at the codon level. We identify 109 genes within 23 clusters of paralogous gene expansions to be subject to positive selection.
Genes identified include surface antigens in both the mammalian and insect host life cycle stage suggesting that competitive interaction is not solely with the adaptive immune system of the mammalian host. Also surface transporters related to drug resistance and genes related to developmental progression are detected. We discuss how adaptive evolution of these genes may highlight lineage specific processes essential for parasite survival. We also discuss the implications of adaptive evolution of these targets for parasite biology and control.
PMCID: PMC2386149  PMID: 18509460
21.  Evolution of NMDA receptor cytoplasmic interaction domains: implications for organisation of synaptic signalling complexes 
BMC Neuroscience  2008;9:6.
Glutamate gated postsynaptic receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) are essential for environmentally stimulated behaviours including learning and memory in both invertebrates and vertebrates. Though their genetics, biochemistry, physiology, and role in behaviour have been intensely studied in vitro and in vivo, their molecular evolution and structural aspects remain poorly understood. To understand how these receptors have evolved different physiological requirements we have investigated the molecular evolution of glutamate gated receptors and ion channels, in particular the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, which is essential for higher cognitive function. Studies of rodent NMDA receptors show that the C-terminal intracellular domain forms a signalling complex with enzymes and scaffold proteins, which is important for neuronal and behavioural plasticity
The vertebrate NMDA receptor was found to have subunits with C-terminal domains up to 500 amino acids longer than invertebrates. This extension was specific to the NR2 subunit and occurred before the duplication and subsequent divergence of NR2 in the vertebrate lineage. The shorter invertebrate C-terminus lacked vertebrate protein interaction motifs involved with forming a signaling complex although the terminal PDZ interaction domain was conserved. The vertebrate NR2 C-terminal domain was predicted to be intrinsically disordered but with a conserved secondary structure.
We highlight an evolutionary adaptation specific to vertebrate NMDA receptor NR2 subunits. Using in silico methods we find that evolution has shaped the NMDA receptor C-terminus into an unstructured but modular intracellular domain that parallels the expansion in complexity of an NMDA receptor signalling complex in the vertebrate lineage. We propose the NR2 C-terminus has evolved to be a natively unstructured yet flexible hub organising postsynaptic signalling. The evolution of the NR2 C-terminus and its associated signalling complex may contribute to species differences in behaviour and in particular cognitive function.
PMCID: PMC2257970  PMID: 18197970
22.  Diverse spatial, temporal, and sexual expression of recently duplicated androgen-binding protein genes in Mus musculus 
The genes for salivary androgen-binding protein (ABP) subunits have been evolving rapidly in ancestors of the house mouse Mus musculus, as evidenced both by recent and extensive gene duplication and by high ratios of nonsynonymous to synonymous nucleotide substitution rates. This makes ABP an appropriate model system with which to investigate how recent adaptive evolution of paralogous genes results in functional innovation (neofunctionalization).
It was our goal to find evidence for the expression of as many of the Abp paralogues in the mouse genome as possible. We observed expression of six Abpa paralogues and five Abpbg paralogues in ten glands and other organs located predominantly in the head and neck (olfactory lobe of the brain, three salivary glands, lacrimal gland, Harderian gland, vomeronasal organ, and major olfactory epithelium). These Abp paralogues differed dramatically in their specific expression in these different glands and in their sexual dimorphism of expression. We also studied the appearance of expression in both late-stage embryos and postnatal animals prior to puberty and found significantly different timing of the onset of expression among the various paralogues.
The multiple changes in the spatial expression profile of these genes resulting in various combinations of expression in glands and other organs in the head and face of the mouse strongly suggest that neofunctionalization of these genes, driven by adaptive evolution, has occurred following duplication. The extensive diversification in expression of this family of proteins provides two lines of evidence for a pheromonal role for ABP: 1) different patterns of Abpa/Abpbg expression in different glands; and 2) sexual dimorphism in the expression of the paralogues in a subset of those glands. These expression patterns differ dramatically among various glands that are located almost exclusively in the head and neck, where the sensory organs are located. Since mice are nocturnal, it is expected that they will make extensive use of olfactory as opposed to visual cues. The glands expressing Abp paralogues produce secretions (lacrimal and salivary) or detect odors (MOE and VNO) and thus it appears highly likely that ABP proteins play a role in olfactory communication.
PMCID: PMC1187883  PMID: 16018816
23.  Exome sequencing identifies DYNC2H1 mutations as a common cause of asphyxiating thoracic dystrophy (Jeune syndrome) without major polydactyly, renal or retinal involvement 
Journal of Medical Genetics  2013;50(5):309-323.
Jeune asphyxiating thoracic dystrophy (JATD) is a rare, often lethal, recessively inherited chondrodysplasia characterised by shortened ribs and long bones, sometimes accompanied by polydactyly, and renal, liver and retinal disease. Mutations in intraflagellar transport (IFT) genes cause JATD, including the IFT dynein-2 motor subunit gene DYNC2H1. Genetic heterogeneity and the large DYNC2H1 gene size have hindered JATD genetic diagnosis.
Aims and methods
To determine the contribution to JATD we screened DYNC2H1 in 71 JATD patients JATD patients combining SNP mapping, Sanger sequencing and exome sequencing.
Results and conclusions
We detected 34 DYNC2H1 mutations in 29/71 (41%) patients from 19/57 families (33%), showing it as a major cause of JATD especially in Northern European patients. This included 13 early protein termination mutations (nonsense/frameshift, deletion, splice site) but no patients carried these in combination, suggesting the human phenotype is at least partly hypomorphic. In addition, 21 missense mutations were distributed across DYNC2H1 and these showed some clustering to functional domains, especially the ATP motor domain. DYNC2H1 patients largely lacked significant extra-skeletal involvement, demonstrating an important genotype–phenotype correlation in JATD. Significant variability exists in the course and severity of the thoracic phenotype, both between affected siblings with identical DYNC2H1 alleles and among individuals with different alleles, which suggests the DYNC2H1 phenotype might be subject to modifier alleles, non-genetic or epigenetic factors. Assessment of fibroblasts from patients showed accumulation of anterograde IFT proteins in the ciliary tips, confirming defects similar to patients with other retrograde IFT machinery mutations, which may be of undervalued potential for diagnostic purposes.
PMCID: PMC3627132  PMID: 23456818
Clinical Genetics; Molecular Genetics; Developmental; Diagnostics; Genetic Screening/Counselling
24.  Combined exome and whole-genome sequencing identifies mutations in ARMC4 as a cause of primary ciliary dyskinesia with defects in the outer dynein arm 
Journal of Medical Genetics  2013;51(1):61-67.
Primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD) is a rare, genetically heterogeneous ciliopathy disorder affecting cilia and sperm motility. A range of ultrastructural defects of the axoneme underlie the disease, which is characterised by chronic respiratory symptoms and obstructive lung disease, infertility and body axis laterality defects. We applied a next-generation sequencing approach to identify the gene responsible for this phenotype in two consanguineous families.
Methods and results
Data from whole-exome sequencing in a consanguineous Turkish family, and whole-genome sequencing in the obligate carrier parents of a consanguineous Pakistani family was combined to identify homozygous loss-of-function mutations in ARMC4, segregating in all five affected individuals from both families. Both families carried nonsense mutations within the highly conserved armadillo repeat region of ARMC4: c.2675C>A; pSer892* and c.1972G>T; p.Glu658*. A deficiency of ARMC4 protein was seen in patient's respiratory cilia accompanied by loss of the distal outer dynein arm motors responsible for generating ciliary beating, giving rise to cilia immotility. ARMC4 gene expression is upregulated during ciliogenesis, and we found a predicted interaction with the outer dynein arm protein DNAI2, mutations in which also cause PCD.
We report the first use of whole-genome sequencing to identify gene mutations causing PCD. Loss-of-function mutations in ARMC4 cause PCD with situs inversus and cilia immotility, associated with a loss of the distal outer (but not inner) dynein arms. This addition of ARMC4 to the list of genes associated with ciliary outer dynein arm defects expands our understanding of the complexities of PCD genetics.
PMCID: PMC3888613  PMID: 24203976
Clinical Genetics; Developmental; Genetics; Molecular Genetics; Other Respiratory Medicine

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