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1.  Germline Mutations in MAP3K6 Are Associated with Familial Gastric Cancer 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(10):e1004669.
Gastric cancer is among the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. While heritable forms of gastric cancer are relatively rare, identifying the genes responsible for such cases can inform diagnosis and treatment for both hereditary and sporadic cases of gastric cancer. Mutations in the E-cadherin gene, CDH1, account for 40% of the most common form of familial gastric cancer (FGC), hereditary diffuse gastric cancer (HDGC). The genes responsible for the remaining forms of FGC are currently unknown. Here we examined a large family from Maritime Canada with FGC without CDH1 mutations, and identified a germline coding variant (p.P946L) in mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase 6 (MAP3K6). Based on conservation, predicted pathogenicity and a known role of the gene in cancer predisposition, MAP3K6 was considered a strong candidate and was investigated further. Screening of an additional 115 unrelated individuals with non-CDH1 FGC identified the p.P946L MAP3K6 variant, as well as four additional coding variants in MAP3K6 (p.F849Sfs*142, p.P958T, p.D200Y and p.V207G). A somatic second-hit variant (p.H506Y) was present in DNA obtained from one of the tumor specimens, and evidence of DNA hypermethylation within the MAP3K6 gene was observed in DNA from the tumor of another affected individual. These findings, together with previous evidence from mouse models that MAP3K6 acts as a tumor suppressor, and studies showing the presence of somatic mutations in MAP3K6 in non-hereditary gastric cancers and gastric cancer cell lines, point towards MAP3K6 variants as a predisposing factor for FGC.
Author Summary
The underlying genetic mutations involved in 60% of inherited gastric cancer cases remain unknown. Here we present a large, extended pedigree with familial gastric cancer and an association in part of the family with a mutation in MAP3K6. The conservation, predicted pathogenicity of the variant, tissue distribution, and known function of MAP3K6 made this a strong candidate that warranted further investigation. Examination of an additional 115 unrelated probands identified additional mutations in MAP3K6, including a truncating mutation.
PMCID: PMC4207611  PMID: 25340522
2.  The Yeast Oxysterol Binding Protein Kes1 Maintains Sphingolipid Levels 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e60485.
The oxysterol binding protein family are amphitropic proteins that bind oxysterols, sterols, and possibly phosphoinositides, in a conserved binding pocket. The Saccharomyces cerevisiae oxysterol binding protein family member Kes1 (also known as Osh4) also binds phosphoinositides on a distinct surface of the protein from the conserved binding pocket. In this study, we determine that the oxysterol binding protein family member Kes1 is required to maintain the ratio of complex sphingolipids and levels of ceramide, sphingosine-phosphate and sphingosine. This inability to maintain normal sphingolipid homeostasis resulted in misdistribution of Pma1, a protein that requires normal sphingolipid synthesis to occur to partition into membrane rafts at the Golgi for its trafficking to the plasma membrane.
PMCID: PMC3617146  PMID: 23593226
3.  Localization of Lipid Raft Proteins to the Plasma Membrane Is a Major Function of the Phospholipid Transfer Protein Sec14 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e55388.
The Sec14 protein domain is a conserved tertiary structure that binds hydrophobic ligands. The Sec14 protein from Saccharomyces cerevisiae is essential with studies of S. cerevisiae Sec14 cellular function facilitated by a sole temperature sensitive allele, sec14ts. The sec14ts allele encodes a protein with a point mutation resulting in a single amino acid change, Sec14G266D. In this study results from a genome-wide genetic screen, and pharmacological data, provide evidence that the Sec14G266D protein is present at a reduced level compared to wild type Sec14 due to its being targeted to the proteosome. Increased expression of the sec14ts allele ameliorated growth arrest, but did not restore the defects in membrane accumulation or vesicular transport known to be defective in sec14ts cells. We determined that trafficking and localization of two well characterized lipid raft resident proteins, Pma1 and Fus-Mid-GFP, were aberrant in sec14ts cells. Localization of both lipid raft proteins was restored upon increased expression of the sec14ts allele. We suggest that a major function provided by Sec14 is trafficking and localization of lipid raft proteins.
PMCID: PMC3559501  PMID: 23383173
4.  A generalizable pre-clinical research approach for orphan disease therapy 
With the advent of next-generation DNA sequencing, the pace of inherited orphan disease gene identification has increased dramatically, a situation that will continue for at least the next several years. At present, the numbers of such identified disease genes significantly outstrips the number of laboratories available to investigate a given disorder, an asymmetry that will only increase over time. The hope for any genetic disorder is, where possible and in addition to accurate diagnostic test formulation, the development of therapeutic approaches. To this end, we propose here the development of a strategic toolbox and preclinical research pathway for inherited orphan disease. Taking much of what has been learned from rare genetic disease research over the past two decades, we propose generalizable methods utilizing transcriptomic, system-wide chemical biology datasets combined with chemical informatics and, where possible, repurposing of FDA approved drugs for pre-clinical orphan disease therapies. It is hoped that this approach may be of utility for the broader orphan disease research community and provide funding organizations and patient advocacy groups with suggestions for the optimal path forward. In addition to enabling academic pre-clinical research, strategies such as this may also aid in seeding startup companies, as well as further engaging the pharmaceutical industry in the treatment of rare genetic disease.
PMCID: PMC3458970  PMID: 22704758
Orphan disease therapy; Preclinical drug development; Generalizable screening methods; Translational toolbox
5.  Regulation of Phosphoinositide Levels by the Phospholipid Transfer Protein Sec14p Controls Cdc42p/p21-Activated Kinase-Mediated Cell Cycle Progression at Cytokinesis▿  
Eukaryotic Cell  2007;6(10):1814-1823.
Sec14p is an essential phosphatidylcholine/phosphatidylinositol transfer protein with a well-described role in the regulation of Golgi apparatus-derived vesicular transport in yeast. Inactivation of the CDP-choline pathway for phosphatidylcholine synthesis allows cells to survive in the absence of Sec14p function through restoration of Golgi vesicular transport capability. In this study, Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells containing a SEC14 temperature-sensitive allele along with an inactivated CDP-choline pathway were transformed with a high-copy-number yeast genomic library. Genes whose increased expression inhibited cell growth in the absence of Sec14p function were identified. Increasing levels of the Rho GTPase Cdc42p and its direct effector kinases Cla4p and Ste20p prevented the growth of cells lacking Sec14p and CDP-choline pathway function. Growth suppression was accompanied by an increase in large and multiply budded cells. This effect on polarized cell growth did not appear to be due to an inability to establish cell polarity, since both the actin cytoskeleton and localization of the septin Cdc12p were unaffected by increased expression of Cdc42p, Cla4p, or Ste20p. Nuclei were present in both the mother cell and the emerging bud, consistent with Sec14p regulation of the cell cycle subsequent to anaphase but prior to cytokinesis/septum breakdown. Increased expression of phosphatidylinositol 4-kinases and phosphatidylinositol 4-phosphate 5-kinase prevented growth arrest by CDC42, CLA4, or STE20 upon inactivation of Sec14p function. Sec14p regulation of phosphoinositide levels affects cytokinesis at the level of the Cdc42p/Cla4p/Ste20p signaling cascade.
PMCID: PMC2043397  PMID: 17601877
6.  The Major Sites of Cellular Phospholipid Synthesis and Molecular Determinants of Fatty Acid and Lipid Head Group Specificity 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2002;13(9):3148-3161.
Phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine are the two main phospholipids in eukaryotic cells comprising ∼50 and 25% of phospholipid mass, respectively. Phosphatidylcholine is synthesized almost exclusively through the CDP-choline pathway in essentially all mammalian cells. Phosphatidylethanolamine is synthesized through either the CDP-ethanolamine pathway or by the decarboxylation of phosphatidylserine, with the contribution of each pathway being cell type dependent. Two human genes, CEPT1 and CPT1, code for the total compliment of activities that directly synthesize phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine through the CDP-alcohol pathways. CEPT1 transfers a phosphobase from either CDP-choline or CDP-ethanolamine to diacylglycerol to synthesize both phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine, whereas CPT1 synthesizes phosphatidylcholine exclusively. We show through immunofluorescence that brefeldin A treatment relocalizes CPT1, but not CEPT1, implying CPT1 is found in the Golgi. A combination of coimmunofluorescence and subcellular fractionation experiments with various endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi, and nuclear markers confirmed that CPT1 was found in the Golgi and CEPT1 was found in both the endoplasmic reticulum and nuclear membranes. The rate-limiting step for phosphatidylcholine synthesis is catalyzed by the amphitropic CTP:phosphocholine cytidylyltransferase α, which is found in the nucleus in most cell types. CTP:phosphocholine cytidylyltransferase α is found immediately upstream cholinephosphotransferase, and it translocates from a soluble nuclear location to the nuclear membrane in response to activators of the CDP-choline pathway. Thus, substrate channeling of the CDP-choline produced by CTP:phosphocholine cytidylyltransferase α to nuclear located CEPT1 is the mechanism by which upregulation of the CDP-choline pathway increases de novo phosphatidylcholine biosynthesis. In addition, a series of CEPT1 site-directed mutants was generated that allowed for the assignment of specific amino acid residues as structural requirements that directly alter either phospholipid head group or fatty acyl composition. This pinpointed glycine 156 within the catalytic motif as being responsible for the dual CDP-alcohol specificity of CEPT1, whereas mutations within helix 214–228 allowed for the orientation of transmembrane helices surrounding the catalytic site to be definitively positioned.
PMCID: PMC124149  PMID: 12221122
7.  Phosphatidylcholine Synthesis Influences the Diacylglycerol Homeostasis Required for Sec14p-dependent Golgi Function and Cell Growth 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2001;12(3):511-520.
Phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine are the most abundant phospholipids in eukaryotic cells and thus have major roles in the formation and maintenance of vesicular membranes. In yeast, diacylglycerol accepts a phosphocholine moiety through a CPT1-derived cholinephosphotransferase activity to directly synthesize phosphatidylcholine. EPT1-derived activity can transfer either phosphocholine or phosphoethanolamine to diacylglcyerol in vitro, but is currently believed to primarily synthesize phosphatidylethanolamine in vivo. In this study we report that CPT1- and EPT1-derived cholinephosphotransferase activities can significantly overlap in vivo such that EPT1 can contribute to 60% of net phosphatidylcholine synthesis via the Kennedy pathway. Alterations in the level of diacylglycerol consumption through alterations in phosphatidylcholine synthesis directly correlated with the level of SEC14-dependent invertase secretion and affected cell viability. Administration of synthetic di8:0 diacylglycerol resulted in a partial rescue of cells from SEC14-mediated cell death. The addition of di8:0 diacylglycerol increased di8:0 diacylglycerol levels 20–40-fold over endogenous long-chain diacylglycerol levels. Di8:0 diacylglcyerol did not alter endogenous phospholipid metabolic pathways, nor was it converted to di8:0 phosphatidic acid.
PMCID: PMC30960  PMID: 11251067

Results 1-7 (7)