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1.  Planarians as a Model to Assess In Vivo the Role of Matrix Metalloproteinase Genes during Homeostasis and Regeneration 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e55649.
Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are major executors of extracellular matrix remodeling and, consequently, play key roles in the response of cells to their microenvironment. The experimentally accessible stem cell population and the robust regenerative capabilities of planarians offer an ideal model to study how modulation of the proteolytic system in the extracellular environment affects cell behavior in vivo. Genome-wide identification of Schmidtea mediterranea MMPs reveals that planarians possess four mmp-like genes. Two of them (mmp1 and mmp2) are strongly expressed in a subset of secretory cells and encode putative matrilysins. The other genes (mt-mmpA and mt-mmpB) are widely expressed in postmitotic cells and appear structurally related to membrane-type MMPs. These genes are conserved in the planarian Dugesia japonica. Here we explore the role of the planarian mmp genes by RNA interference (RNAi) during tissue homeostasis and regeneration. Our analyses identify essential functions for two of them. Following inhibition of mmp1 planarians display dramatic disruption of tissues architecture and significant decrease in cell death. These results suggest that mmp1 controls tissue turnover, modulating survival of postmitotic cells. Unexpectedly, the ability to regenerate is unaffected by mmp1(RNAi). Silencing of mt-mmpA alters tissue integrity and delays blastema growth, without affecting proliferation of stem cells. Our data support the possibility that the activity of this protease modulates cell migration and regulates anoikis, with a consequent pivotal role in tissue homeostasis and regeneration. Our data provide evidence of the involvement of specific MMPs in tissue homeostasis and regeneration and demonstrate that the behavior of planarian stem cells is critically dependent on the microenvironment surrounding these cells. Studying MMPs function in the planarian model provides evidence on how individual proteases work in vivo in adult tissues. These results have high potential to generate significant information for development of regenerative and anti cancer therapies.
PMCID: PMC3566077  PMID: 23405188
2.  A proteomics approach to decipher the molecular nature of planarian stem cells 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:133.
In recent years, planaria have emerged as an important model system for research into stem cells and regeneration. Attention is focused on their unique stem cells, the neoblasts, which can differentiate into any cell type present in the adult organism. Sequencing of the Schmidtea mediterranea genome and some expressed sequence tag projects have generated extensive data on the genetic profile of these cells. However, little information is available on their protein dynamics.
We developed a proteomic strategy to identify neoblast-specific proteins. Here we describe the method and discuss the results in comparison to the genomic high-throughput analyses carried out in planaria and to proteomic studies using other stem cell systems. We also show functional data for some of the candidate genes selected in our proteomic approach.
We have developed an accurate and reliable mass-spectra-based proteomics approach to complement previous genomic studies and to further achieve a more accurate understanding and description of the molecular and cellular processes related to the neoblasts.
PMCID: PMC3058083  PMID: 21356107
3.  Smed454 dataset: unravelling the transcriptome of Schmidtea mediterranea 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:731.
Freshwater planarians are an attractive model for regeneration and stem cell research and have become a promising tool in the field of regenerative medicine. With the availability of a sequenced planarian genome, the recent application of modern genetic and high-throughput tools has resulted in revitalized interest in these animals, long known for their amazing regenerative capabilities, which enable them to regrow even a new head after decapitation. However, a detailed description of the planarian transcriptome is essential for future investigation into regenerative processes using planarians as a model system.
In order to complement and improve existing gene annotations, we used a 454 pyrosequencing approach to analyze the transcriptome of the planarian species Schmidtea mediterranea Altogether, 598,435 454-sequencing reads, with an average length of 327 bp, were assembled together with the ~10,000 sequences of the S. mediterranea UniGene set using different similarity cutoffs. The assembly was then mapped onto the current genome data. Remarkably, our Smed454 dataset contains more than 3 million novel transcribed nucleotides sequenced for the first time. A descriptive analysis of planarian splice sites was conducted on those Smed454 contigs that mapped univocally to the current genome assembly. Sequence analysis allowed us to identify genes encoding putative proteins with defined structural properties, such as transmembrane domains. Moreover, we annotated the Smed454 dataset using Gene Ontology, and identified putative homologues of several gene families that may play a key role during regeneration, such as neurotransmitter and hormone receptors, homeobox-containing genes, and genes related to eye function.
We report the first planarian transcript dataset, Smed454, as an open resource tool that can be accessed via a web interface. Smed454 contains significant novel sequence information about most expressed genes of S. mediterranea. Analysis of the annotated data promises to contribute to identification of gene families poorly characterized at a functional level. The Smed454 transcriptome data will assist in the molecular characterization of S. mediterranea as a model organism, which will be useful to a broad scientific community.
PMCID: PMC3022928  PMID: 21194483
4.  EGASP: the human ENCODE Genome Annotation Assessment Project 
Genome Biology  2006;7(Suppl 1):S2.
We present the results of EGASP, a community experiment to assess the state-of-the-art in genome annotation within the ENCODE regions, which span 1% of the human genome sequence. The experiment had two major goals: the assessment of the accuracy of computational methods to predict protein coding genes; and the overall assessment of the completeness of the current human genome annotations as represented in the ENCODE regions. For the computational prediction assessment, eighteen groups contributed gene predictions. We evaluated these submissions against each other based on a 'reference set' of annotations generated as part of the GENCODE project. These annotations were not available to the prediction groups prior to the submission deadline, so that their predictions were blind and an external advisory committee could perform a fair assessment.
The best methods had at least one gene transcript correctly predicted for close to 70% of the annotated genes. Nevertheless, the multiple transcript accuracy, taking into account alternative splicing, reached only approximately 40% to 50% accuracy. At the coding nucleotide level, the best programs reached an accuracy of 90% in both sensitivity and specificity. Programs relying on mRNA and protein sequences were the most accurate in reproducing the manually curated annotations. Experimental validation shows that only a very small percentage (3.2%) of the selected 221 computationally predicted exons outside of the existing annotation could be verified.
This is the first such experiment in human DNA, and we have followed the standards established in a similar experiment, GASP1, in Drosophila melanogaster. We believe the results presented here contribute to the value of ongoing large-scale annotation projects and should guide further experimental methods when being scaled up to the entire human genome sequence.
PMCID: PMC1810551  PMID: 16925836
5.  The Diploid Genome Sequence of an Individual Human 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(10):e254.
Presented here is a genome sequence of an individual human. It was produced from ∼32 million random DNA fragments, sequenced by Sanger dideoxy technology and assembled into 4,528 scaffolds, comprising 2,810 million bases (Mb) of contiguous sequence with approximately 7.5-fold coverage for any given region. We developed a modified version of the Celera assembler to facilitate the identification and comparison of alternate alleles within this individual diploid genome. Comparison of this genome and the National Center for Biotechnology Information human reference assembly revealed more than 4.1 million DNA variants, encompassing 12.3 Mb. These variants (of which 1,288,319 were novel) included 3,213,401 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), 53,823 block substitutions (2–206 bp), 292,102 heterozygous insertion/deletion events (indels)(1–571 bp), 559,473 homozygous indels (1–82,711 bp), 90 inversions, as well as numerous segmental duplications and copy number variation regions. Non-SNP DNA variation accounts for 22% of all events identified in the donor, however they involve 74% of all variant bases. This suggests an important role for non-SNP genetic alterations in defining the diploid genome structure. Moreover, 44% of genes were heterozygous for one or more variants. Using a novel haplotype assembly strategy, we were able to span 1.5 Gb of genome sequence in segments >200 kb, providing further precision to the diploid nature of the genome. These data depict a definitive molecular portrait of a diploid human genome that provides a starting point for future genome comparisons and enables an era of individualized genomic information.
Author Summary
We have generated an independently assembled diploid human genomic DNA sequence from both chromosomes of a single individual (J. Craig Venter). Our approach, based on whole-genome shotgun sequencing and using enhanced genome assembly strategies and software, generated an assembled genome over half of which is represented in large diploid segments (>200 kilobases), enabling study of the diploid genome. Comparison with previous reference human genome sequences, which were composites comprising multiple humans, revealed that the majority of genomic alterations are the well-studied class of variants based on single nucleotides (SNPs). However, the results also reveal that lesser-studied genomic variants, insertions and deletions, while comprising a minority (22%) of genomic variation events, actually account for almost 74% of variant nucleotides. Inclusion of insertion and deletion genetic variation into our estimates of interchromosomal difference reveals that only 99.5% similarity exists between the two chromosomal copies of an individual and that genetic variation between two individuals is as much as five times higher than previously estimated. The existence of a well-characterized diploid human genome sequence provides a starting point for future individual genome comparisons and enables the emerging era of individualized genomic information.
Comparison of the DNA sequence of an individual human from the reference sequence reveals a surprising amount of difference.
PMCID: PMC1964779  PMID: 17803354

Results 1-5 (5)