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1.  Targeting RNA Splicing for Disease Therapy 
Splicing of pre-messenger RNA into mature messenger RNA is an essential step for expression of most genes in higher eukaryotes. Defects in this process typically affect cellular function and can have pathological consequences. Many human genetic diseases are caused by mutations that cause splicing defects. Furthermore, a number of diseases are associated with splicing defects that are not attributed to overt mutations. Targeting splicing directly to correct disease-associated aberrant splicing is a logical approach to therapy. Splicing is a favorable intervention point for disease therapeutics, because it is an early step in gene expression and does not alter the genome. Significant advances have been made in the development of approaches to manipulate splicing for therapy. Splicing can be manipulated with a number of tools including antisense oligonucleotides, modified small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs), trans-splicing, and small molecule compounds, all of which have been used to increase specific alternatively spliced isoforms or to correct aberrant gene expression resulting from gene mutations that alter splicing. Here we describe clinically relevant splicing defects in disease states, the current tools used to target and alter splicing, specific mutations and diseases that are being targeted using splice-modulating approaches, and emerging therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3631270  PMID: 23512601
2.  Sensitive PCR-Based Quantitation of Cell-Free Circulating MicroRNAs 
Methods (San Diego, Calif.)  2012;58(2):144-150.
Cell-free microRNAs (miRNAs) that circulate in the blood are promising surrogate biomarkers of disease and physiological processes. The ease of quantifying specific miRNA species using made-to-order approaches based on Taq-polymerase has led to numerous studies that have identified changes in the abundance of circulating cell-free miRNA species that correlate with pathology or other events. The growing interest in developing miRNAs as blood biomarkers necessitates the careful consideration of the unique properties of such body fluids that can make the reproducible and quantitative assessment of RNA abundance challenging. For example, enzymes involved in the amplification and analysis of RNA can be affected by blood components that copurify with miRNA. Thus, if miRNAs are to be effectively utilized as biomarkers, it is important to establish standardized protocols for blood collection and miRNA analysis to ensure accurate quantitation. Here we outline several considerations, including the type of collection tube used in sampling, the influence of added anticoagulants and stabilizers, sample processing, enrichment of vesicular and other miRNA species, RNA extraction approaches and enzyme selection, that affect quantitation of miRNA isolated from plasma and should be considered in order to achieve reproducible, sensitive and accurate quantitation.
PMCID: PMC3508311  PMID: 22884953
3.  Rescue of hearing and vestibular function in a mouse model of human deafness 
Nature medicine  2013;19(3):345-350.
Hearing impairment is the most common sensory disorder, with congenital hearing impairment present in ~1 in 1000 newborns1, and yet there is no cellular cure for deafness. Hereditary deafness is often mediated by the developmental failure or degeneration of cochlear hair cells2. Until now, it was not known whether such congenital failures could be mitigated by therapeutic intervention3-5. Here we show that hearing and vestibular function can be rescued in a mouse model of human hereditary deafness. An antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) was used to correct defective pre–mRNA splicing of transcripts from the mutated USH1C.216G>A gene, which causes human Usher syndrome (Usher), the leading genetic cause of combined deafness and blindness6,7. Treatment of neonatal mice with a single systemic dose of ASO partially corrects USH1C.216G>A splicing, increases protein expression, improves stereocilia organization in the cochlea, and rescues cochlear hair cells, vestibular function and hearing in mice. Our results demonstrate the therapeutic potential of ASOs in the treatment of deafness and provide evidence that congenital deafness can be effectively overcome by treatment early in development to correct gene expression.
PMCID: PMC3657744  PMID: 23380860
4.  MicroRNAs are exported from malignant cells in customized particles 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(18):9125-9138.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are released from cells in association with proteins or microvesicles. We previously reported that malignant transformation changes the assortment of released miRNAs by affecting whether a particular miRNA species is released or retained by the cell. How this selectivity occurs is unclear. Here we report that selectively exported miRNAs, whose release is increased in malignant cells, are packaged in structures that are different from those that carry neutrally released miRNAs (n-miRNAs), whose release is not affected by malignancy. By separating breast cancer cell microvesicles, we find that selectively released miRNAs associate with exosomes and nucleosomes. However, n-miRNAs of breast cancer cells associate with unconventional exosomes, which are larger than conventional exosomes and enriched in CD44, a protein relevant to breast cancer metastasis. Based on their large size, we call these vesicles L-exosomes. Contrary to the distribution of miRNAs among different microvesicles of breast cancer cells, normal cells release all measured miRNAs in a single type of vesicle. Our results suggest that malignant transformation alters the pathways through which specific miRNAs are exported from cells. These changes in the particles and their miRNA cargo could be used to detect the presence of malignant cells in the body.
PMCID: PMC3467054  PMID: 22772984
5.  Biogenesis of mammalian microRNAs by a non-canonical processing pathway 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(10):4626-4640.
Canonical microRNA biogenesis requires the Microprocessor components, Drosha and DGCR8, to generate precursor-miRNA, and Dicer to form mature miRNA. The Microprocessor is not required for processing of some miRNAs, including mirtrons, in which spliceosome-excised introns are direct Dicer substrates. In this study, we examine the processing of putative human mirtrons and demonstrate that although some are splicing-dependent, as expected, the predicted mirtrons, miR-1225 and miR-1228, are produced in the absence of splicing. Remarkably, knockout cell lines and knockdown experiments demonstrated that biogenesis of these splicing-independent mirtron-like miRNAs, termed ‘simtrons’, does not require the canonical miRNA biogenesis components, DGCR8, Dicer, Exportin-5 or Argonaute 2. However, simtron biogenesis was reduced by expression of a dominant negative form of Drosha. Simtrons are bound by Drosha and processed in vitro in a Drosha-dependent manner. Both simtrons and mirtrons function in silencing of target transcripts and are found in the RISC complex as demonstrated by their interaction with Argonaute proteins. These findings reveal a non-canonical miRNA biogenesis pathway that can produce functional regulatory RNAs.
PMCID: PMC3378869  PMID: 22270084
6.  Selective Release of MicroRNA Species from Normal and Malignant Mammary Epithelial Cells 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13515.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) in body fluids are candidate diagnostics for a variety of conditions and diseases, including breast cancer. One premise for using extracellular miRNAs to diagnose disease is the notion that the abundance of the miRNAs in body fluids reflects their abundance in the abnormal cells causing the disease. As a result, the search for such diagnostics in body fluids has focused on miRNAs that are abundant in the cells of origin. Here we report that released miRNAs do not necessarily reflect the abundance of miRNA in the cell of origin. We find that release of miRNAs from cells into blood, milk and ductal fluids is selective and that the selection of released miRNAs may correlate with malignancy. In particular, the bulk of miR-451 and miR-1246 produced by malignant mammary epithelial cells was released, but the majority of these miRNAs produced by non-malignant mammary epithelial cells was retained. Our findings suggest the existence of a cellular selection mechanism for miRNA release and indicate that the extracellular and cellular miRNA profiles differ. This selective release of miRNAs is an important consideration for the identification of circulating miRNAs as biomarkers of disease.
PMCID: PMC2958125  PMID: 20976003
7.  A feedback loop regulates splicing of the spinal muscular atrophy-modifying gene, SMN2 
Human Molecular Genetics  2010;19(24):4906-4917.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a neurological disorder characterized by motor neuron degeneration and progressive muscle paralysis. The disease is caused by a reduction in survival of motor neuron (SMN) protein resulting from homozygous deletion of the SMN1 gene. SMN protein is also encoded by SMN2. However, splicing of SMN2 exon 7 is defective, and consequently, the majority of the transcripts produce a truncated, unstable protein. SMN protein itself has a role in splicing. The protein is required for the biogenesis of spliceosomal snRNPs, which are essential components of the splicing reaction. We now show that SMN protein abundance affects the splicing of SMN2 exon 7, revealing a feedback loop inSMN expression. The reduced SMN protein concentration observed in SMA samples and in cells depleted of SMN correlates with a decrease in cellular snRNA levels and a decrease in SMN2 exon 7 splicing. Furthermore, altering the relative abundance or activity of individual snRNPs has distinct effects on exon 7 splicing, demonstrating that core spliceosomal snRNPs influence SMN2 alternative splicing. Our results identify a feedback loop in SMN expression by which low SMN protein levels exacerbate SMN exon 7 skipping, leading to a further reduction in SMN protein. These results imply that a modest increase in SMN protein abundance may cause a disproportionately large increase in SMN expression, a finding that is important for assessing the therapeutic potential of SMA treatments and understanding disease pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2989896  PMID: 20884664
8.  Control of Pre-mRNA Splicing by the General Splicing Factors PUF60 and U2AF65 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(6):e538.
Pre-mRNA splicing is a crucial step in gene expression, and accurate recognition of splice sites is an essential part of this process. Splice sites with weak matches to the consensus sequences are common, though it is not clear how such sites are efficiently utilized. Using an in vitro splicing-complementation approach, we identified PUF60 as a factor that promotes splicing of an intron with a weak 3′ splice-site. PUF60 has homology to U2AF65, a general splicing factor that facilitates 3′ splice-site recognition at the early stages of spliceosome assembly. We demonstrate that PUF60 can functionally substitute for U2AF65 in vitro, but splicing is strongly stimulated by the presence of both proteins. Reduction of either PUF60 or U2AF65 in cells alters the splicing pattern of endogenous transcripts, consistent with the idea that regulation of PUF60 and U2AF65 levels can dictate alternative splicing patterns. Our results indicate that recognition of 3′ splice sites involves different U2AF-like molecules, and that modulation of these general splicing factors can have profound effects on splicing.
PMCID: PMC1888729  PMID: 17579712
9.  A primate virus generates transformed human cells by fusion 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2005;171(3):493-503.
Amodel that explains both the origin and sporadic nature of cancer argues that cancer cells are a chance result of events that cause genomic and epigenetic variability. The prevailing view is that these events are mutations that affect chromosome segregation or stability. However, genomic and epigenetic variability is also triggered by cell fusion, which is often caused by viruses. Yet, cells fused by viruses are considered harmless because they die. We provide evidence that a primate virus uses both viral and exosomal proteins involved in cell fusion to produce transformed proliferating human cells. Although normal cells indeed fail to proliferate after fusion, expression of an oncogene or a mutated tumor suppressor p53 in just one of the fusion partners is sufficient to produce heterogeneous progeny. We also show that this virus can produce viable oncogenically transformed cells by fusing cells that are otherwise destined to die. Therefore, we argue that viruses can contribute to carcinogenesis by fusing cells.
PMCID: PMC2171256  PMID: 16275753
10.  Genetic Locus Required for Antigenic Maturation of Rhizobium etli CE3 Lipopolysaccharide 
Journal of Bacteriology  2001;183(20):6054-6064.
Rhizobium etli modifies lipopolysaccharide (LPS) structure in response to environmental signals, such as low pH and anthocyanins. These LPS modifications result in the loss of reactivity with certain monoclonal antibodies. The same antibodies fail to recognize previously isolated R. etli mutant strain CE367, even in the absence of such environmental cues. Chemical analysis of the LPS in strain CE367 demonstrated that it lacked the terminal sugar of the wild-type O antigen, 2,3,4-tri-O-methylfucose. A 3-kb stretch of DNA, designated as lpe3, restored wild-type antigenicity when transferred into CE367. From the sequence of this DNA, five open reading frames were postulated. Site-directed mutagenesis and complementation analysis suggested that the genes were organized in at least two transcriptional units, both of which were required for the production of LPS reactive with the diagnostic antibodies. Growth in anthocyanins or at low pH did not alter the specific expression of gusA from the transposon insertion of mutant CE367, nor did the presence of multiple copies of lpe3 situated behind a strong, constitutive promoter prevent epitope changes induced by these environmental cues. Mutations of the lpe genes did not prevent normal nodule development on Phaseolus vulgaris and had very little effect on the occupation of nodules in competition with the wild-type strain.
PMCID: PMC99685  PMID: 11567006

Results 1-10 (10)