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1.  Cytoplasmic Viral RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase Disrupts the Intracellular Splicing Machinery by Entering the Nucleus and Interfering with Prp8 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(6):e1004199.
The primary role of cytoplasmic viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) is viral genome replication in the cellular cytoplasm. However, picornaviral RdRp denoted 3D polymerase (3Dpol) also enters the host nucleus, where its function remains unclear. In this study, we describe a novel mechanism of viral attack in which 3Dpol enters the nucleus through the nuclear localization signal (NLS) and targets the pre-mRNA processing factor 8 (Prp8) to block pre-mRNA splicing and mRNA synthesis. The fingers domain of 3Dpol associates with the C-terminal region of Prp8, which contains the Jab1/MPN domain, and interferes in the second catalytic step, resulting in the accumulation of the lariat form of the splicing intermediate. Endogenous pre-mRNAs trapped by the Prp8-3Dpol complex in enterovirus-infected cells were identified and classed into groups associated with cell growth, proliferation, and differentiation. Our results suggest that picornaviral RdRp disrupts pre-mRNA splicing processes, that differs from viral protease shutting off cellular transcription and translation which contributes to the pathogenesis of viral infection.
Author Summary
RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) is an enzyme that catalyzes the replication from an RNA template and is encoded in the genomes of all RNA viruses. RNA viruses in general replicate in cytoplasm and interfere host cellular gene expression by utilizing proteolytic destruction of cellular targets as the primary mechanism. However, several cytoplasmic RNA viral proteins have been found in the nucleus. What do they do in the nucleus? This study utilized picornaviral polymerase to probe the function of RdRp in the nucleus. Our findings reveal a novel mechanism of viruses attacking hosts whereby picornaviral 3D polymerase (3Dpol) enters the nucleus and targets the central pre-mRNA processing factor 8 (Prp8) to block pre-mRNA splicing and mRNA synthesis. The 3Dpol inhibits the second catalytic step of the splicing process, resulting in the accumulation of the lariat-form and the reduction of the mRNA. These results provide new insights into the strategy of a cytoplasmic RNA virus attacking host cell, that differs from viral shutting off cellular transcription and translation which contributes to the viral pathogenesis. To our knowledge, this study shows for the first time that a cytoplasmic RNA virus uses its polymerase to alter cellular gene expression by hijacking the splicing machinery.
PMCID: PMC4072778  PMID: 24968230
2.  Extracellular caspase-6 drives murine inflammatory pain via microglial TNF-α secretion 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2014;124(3):1173-1186.
Increasing evidence indicates that the pathogenesis of neuropathic pain is mediated through spinal cord microglia activation. The intracellular protease caspase-6 (CASP6) is known to regulate neuronal apoptosis and axonal degeneration; however, the contribution of microglia and CASP6 in modulating synaptic transmission and pain is unclear. Here, we found that CASP6 is expressed specifically in C-fiber axonal terminals in the superficial spinal cord dorsal horn. Animals exposed to intraplantar formalin or bradykinin injection exhibited CASP6 activation in the dorsal horn. Casp6-null mice had normal baseline pain, but impaired inflammatory pain responses. Furthermore, formalin-induced second-phase pain was suppressed by spinal injection of CASP6 inhibitor or CASP6-neutralizing antibody, as well as perisciatic nerve injection of CASP6 siRNA. Recombinant CASP6 (rCASP6) induced marked TNF-α release in microglial cultures, and most microglia within the spinal cord expressed Tnfa. Spinal injection of rCASP6 elicited TNF-α production and microglia-dependent pain hypersensitivity. Evaluation of excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) revealed that rCASP6 rapidly increased synaptic transmission in spinal cord slices via TNF-α release. Interestingly, the microglial inhibitor minocycline suppressed rCASP6 but not TNF-α–induced synaptic potentiation. Finally, rCASP6-activated microglial culture medium increased EPSCs in spinal cord slices via TNF-α. Together, these data suggest that CASP6 released from axonal terminals regulates microglial TNF-α secretion, synaptic plasticity, and inflammatory pain.
PMCID: PMC3934175  PMID: 24531553
3.  TLR3 deficiency impairs spinal cord synaptic transmission, central sensitization, and pruritus in mice 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2012;122(6):2195-2207.
Itch, also known as pruritus, is a common, intractable symptom of several skin diseases, such as atopic dermatitis and xerosis. TLRs mediate innate immunity and regulate neuropathic pain, but their roles in pruritus are elusive. Here, we report that scratching behaviors induced by histamine-dependent and -independent pruritogens are markedly reduced in mice lacking the Tlr3 gene. TLR3 is expressed mainly by small-sized primary sensory neurons in dorsal root ganglions (DRGs) that coexpress the itch signaling pathway components transient receptor potential subtype V1 and gastrin-releasing peptide. Notably, we found that treatment with a TLR3 agonist induces inward currents and action potentials in DRG neurons and elicited scratching in WT mice but not Tlr3–/– mice. Furthermore, excitatory synaptic transmission in spinal cord slices and long-term potentiation in the intact spinal cord were impaired in Tlr3–/– mice but not Tlr7–/– mice. Consequently, central sensitization–driven pain hypersensitivity, but not acute pain, was impaired in Tlr3–/– mice. In addition, TLR3 knockdown in DRGs also attenuated pruritus in WT mice. Finally, chronic itch in a dry skin condition was substantially reduced in Tlr3–/– mice. Our findings demonstrate a critical role of TLR3 in regulating sensory neuronal excitability, spinal cord synaptic transmission, and central sensitization. TLR3 may serve as a new target for developing anti-itch treatment.
PMCID: PMC3366391  PMID: 22565312
4.  The effects of magnetite (Fe3O4) nanoparticles on electroporation-induced inward currents in pituitary tumor (GH3) cells and in RAW 264.7 macrophages 
Fe3O4 nanoparticles (NPs) have been known to provide a distinct image contrast effect for magnetic resonance imaging owing to their super paramagnetic properties on local magnetic fields. However, the possible effects of these NPs on membrane ion currents that concurrently induce local magnetic field perturbation remain unclear.
We evaluated whether amine surface-modified Fe3O4 NPs have any effect on ion currents in pituitary tumor (GH3) cells via voltage clamp methods.
The addition of Fe3O4 NPs decreases the amplitude of membrane electroporation-induced currents (IMEP) with a half-maximal inhibitory concentration at 45 μg/mL. Fe3O4 NPs at a concentration of 3 mg/mL produced a biphasic response in the amplitude of IMEP, ie, an initial decrease followed by a sustained increase. A similar effect was also noted in RAW 264.7 macrophages.
The modulation of magnetic electroporation-induced currents by Fe3O4 NPs constitutes an important approach for cell tracking under various imaging modalities or facilitated drug delivery.
PMCID: PMC3357052  PMID: 22615532
iron oxide; ion current; free radical
5.  Acute morphine induces matrix metalloproteinase-9 up-regulation in primary sensory neurons to mask opioid-induced analgesia in mice 
Molecular Pain  2012;8:19.
Despite decades of intense research efforts, actions of acute opioids are not fully understood. Increasing evidence suggests that in addition to well-documented antinociceptive effects opioids also produce paradoxical hyperalgesic and excitatory effects on neurons. However, most studies focus on the pronociceptive actions of chronic opioid exposure. Matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9) plays an important role in neuroinflammation and neuropathic pain development. We examined MMP-9 expression and localization in dorsal root ganglia (DRGs) after acute morphine treatment and, furthermore, the role of MMP-9 in modulating acute morphine-induced analgesia and hyperalgesia in mice.
Subcutaneous morphine induced a marked up-regulation of MMP-9 protein in DRGs but not spinal cords. Morphine also increased MMP-9 activity and mRNA expression in DRGs. MMP-9 up-regulation peaked at 2 h but returned to the baseline after 24 h. In DRG tissue sections, MMP-9 is expressed in small and medium-sized neurons that co-express mu opioid receptors (MOR). In DRG cultures, MOR agonists morphine, DAMGO, and remifentanil each increased MMP-9 expression in neurons, whereas the opioid receptor antagonist naloxone and the MOR-selective antagonist D-Phe-Cys-Tyr-D-Trp-Arg-Thr-Pen-Thr-NH2 (CTAP) suppressed morphine-induced MMP-9 expression. Notably, subcutaneous morphine-induced analgesia was enhanced and prolonged in Mmp9 knockout mice and also potentiated in wild-type mice receiving intrathecal injection of MMP-9 inhibitors. Consistently, intrathecal injection of specific siRNA targeting MMP-9 reduced MMP-9 expression in DRGs and enhanced and prolonged morphine analgesia. Subcutaneous morphine also produced heat hyperalgesia at 24 h, but this opioid-induced hyperalgesia was not enhanced after MMP-9 deletion or inhibition.
Transient MMP-9 up-regulation in DRG neurons can mask opioid analgesia, without modulating opioid-induced hyperalgesia. Distinct molecular mechanisms (MMP-9 dependent and independent) control acute opioid-induced pronociceptive actions (anti-analgesia in the first several hours and hyperalgesia after 24 h). Targeting MMP-9 may improve acute opioid analgesia.
PMCID: PMC3353172  PMID: 22444868
Dorsal root ganglion; Metalloprotease; MMP-9; mu opioid receptor (MOR); Opioid-induced analgesia; Opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH); Spinal cord
6.  Acute morphine activates satellite glial cells and up-regulates IL-1β in dorsal root ganglia in mice via matrix metalloprotease-9 
Molecular Pain  2012;8:18.
Activation of spinal cord glial cells such as microglia and astrocytes has been shown to regulate chronic opioid-induced antinociceptive tolerance and hyperalgesia, due to spinal up-regulation of the proinflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β). Matrix metalloprotease-9 (MMP-9) has been implicated in IL-1β activation in neuropathic pain. However, it is unclear whether acute opioid treatment can activate glial cells in the peripheral nervous system. We examined acute morphine-induced activation of satellite glial cells (SGCs) and up-regulation of IL-1β in dorsal root ganglia (DRGs), and further investigated the involvement of MMP-9 in these opioid-induced peripheral changes.
Subcutaneous morphine injection (10 mg/kg) induced robust peripheral glial responses, as evidenced by increased GFAP expression in DRGs but not in spinal cords. The acute morphine-induced GFAP expression is transient, peaking at 2 h and declining after 3 h. Acute morphine treatment also increased IL-1β immunoreactivity in SGCs and IL-1β activation in DRGs. MMP-9 and GFAP are expressed in DRG neurons and SGCs, respectively. Confocal analysis revealed a close proximity of MMP-9 and GFAP immunostaining. Importantly, morphine-induced DRG up-regulation of GFAP expression and IL-1β activation was abolished after Mmp9 deletion or naloxone pre-treatment. Finally, intrathecal injections of IL-1β-selective siRNA not only reduced DRG IL-1β expression but also prolonged acute morphine-induced analgesia.
Acute morphine induces opioid receptors- and MMP-9-dependent up-regulation of GFAP expression and IL-1β activation in SGCs of DRGs. MMP-9 could mask and shorten morphine analgesia via peripheral neuron-glial interactions. Targeting peripheral glial activation might prolong acute opioid analgesia.
PMCID: PMC3352126  PMID: 22439811
7.  Determinants of the Differential Antizyme-Binding Affinity of Ornithine Decarboxylase 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e26835.
Ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) is a ubiquitous enzyme that is conserved in all species from bacteria to humans. Mammalian ODC is degraded by the proteasome in a ubiquitin-independent manner by direct binding to the antizyme (AZ). In contrast, Trypanosoma brucei ODC has a low binding affinity toward AZ. In this study, we identified key amino acid residues that govern the differential AZ binding affinity of human and Trypanosoma brucei ODC. Multiple sequence alignments of the ODC putative AZ-binding site highlights several key amino acid residues that are different between the human and Trypanosoma brucei ODC protein sequences, including residue 119, 124,125, 129, 136, 137 and 140 (the numbers is for human ODC). We generated a septuple human ODC mutant protein where these seven bases were mutated to match the Trypanosoma brucei ODC protein sequence. The septuple mutant protein was much less sensitive to AZ inhibition compared to the WT protein, suggesting that these amino acid residues play a role in human ODC-AZ binding. Additional experiments with sextuple mutants suggest that residue 137 plays a direct role in AZ binding, and residues 119 and 140 play secondary roles in AZ binding. The dissociation constants were also calculated to quantify the affinity of the ODC-AZ binding interaction. The Kd value for the wild type ODC protein-AZ heterodimer ([ODC_WT]-AZ) is approximately 0.22 μM, while the Kd value for the septuple mutant-AZ heterodimer ([ODC_7M]-AZ) is approximately 12.4 μM. The greater than 50-fold increase in [ODC_7M]-AZ binding affinity shows that the ODC-7M enzyme has a much lower binding affinity toward AZ. For the mutant proteins ODC_7M(-Q119H) and ODC_7M(-V137D), the Kd was 1.4 and 1.2 μM, respectively. These affinities are 6-fold higher than the WT_ODC Kd, which suggests that residues 119 and 137 play a role in AZ binding.
PMCID: PMC3207831  PMID: 22073206
8.  Role of microglia in neuropathic pain, postoperative pain, and morphine tolerance 
Management of chronic pain such as nerve injury-induced neuropathic pain associated with diabetic neuropathy, viral infection, and cancer is a real clinical challenge. Major surgeries such as breast and thoracic surgery, leg amputation, and coronary artery bypass surgery also lead to chronic pain in 10–50% of individuals after acute postoperative pain, in part due to surgery-induced nerve injury. Current treatments mainly focus on blocking neurotransmission in the pain pathway and have only resulted in limited success. Ironically, chronic opioid exposure may lead to paradoxical pain. Development of effective therapeutic strategies requires a better understanding of cellular mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of neuropathic pain. An important progress in pain research points to important role of microglial cells in the development of chronic pain. Spinal cord microglia are strongly activated after nerve injury, surgical incision, and chronic opioid exposure. Increasing evidence suggests that under all these conditions the activated microglia not only exhibit increased expression of microglial markers CD11b and Iba1 but also display elevated phosphorylation of p38 MAP kinase. Inhibition of spinal cord p38 has been shown to attenuate neuropathic pain and postoperative pain, as well as morphine-induced antinociceptive tolerance. Activation of p38 in spinal microglia results in increased synthesis and release of the neurotrophin BDNF and the proinflammatory cytokines IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α. These microglia-released mediators can powerfully modulate spinal cord synaptic transmission, leading to increased excitability of dorsal horn neurons, i.e. central sensitization, in part via suppressing inhibitory synaptic transmission. We review the studies that support the pronociceptive role of microglia in conditions of neuropathic pain, post-surgical pain, and opioid tolerance. Some of these studies have been accomplished by four Taiwanese anesthesiologists who are also co-authors of this review during their training at Harvard Medical School. We conclude that targeting microglial signalling may lead to more effective treatments for devastating chronic pain after diabetic neuropathy, viral infection, cancer, and major surgeries in part via improving the analgesic efficacy of opioids.
PMCID: PMC3169792  PMID: 21783017
Central sensitization; neuronal-glial interactions; proinflammatory cytokines; p38 MAP kinase; spinal cord
9.  Critical Factors Governing the Difference in Antizyme-Binding Affinities between Human Ornithine Decarboxylase and Antizyme Inhibitor 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e19253.
Both ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) and its regulatory protein, antizyme inhibitor (AZI), can bind with antizyme (AZ), but the latter has a higher AZ-binding affinity. The results of this study clearly identify the critical amino acid residues governing the difference in AZ-binding affinities between human ODC and AZI. Inhibition experiments using a series of ODC mutants suggested that residues 125 and 140 may be the key residues responsible for the differential AZ-binding affinities. The ODC_N125K/M140K double mutant demonstrated a significant inhibition by AZ, and the IC50 value of this mutant was 0.08 µM, three-fold smaller than that of ODC_WT. Furthermore, the activity of the AZ-inhibited ODC_N125K/M140K enzyme was hardly rescued by AZI. The dissociation constant (Kd) of the [ODC_N125K/M140K]-AZ heterodimer was approximately 0.02 µM, which is smaller than that of WT_ODC by approximately 10-fold and is very close to the Kd value of AZI_WT, suggesting that ODC_N125K/M140K has an AZ-binding affinity higher than that of ODC_WT and similar to that of AZI. The efficiency of the AZI_K125N/K140M double mutant in the rescue of AZ-inhibited ODC enzyme activity was less than that of AZI_WT. The Kd value of [AZI_K125N/K140M]-AZ was 0.18 µM, nine-fold larger than that of AZI_WT and close to the Kd value of ODC_WT, suggesting that AZI_K125N/K140M has an AZ-binding affinity lower than that of AZI_WT and similar to that of ODC. These data support the hypothesis that the differences in residues 125 and 140 in ODC and AZI are responsible for the differential AZ-binding affinities.
PMCID: PMC3084279  PMID: 21552531
10.  The c-Jun N-terminal Kinase 1 (JNK1) in spinal astrocytes is required for the maintenance of bilateral mechanical allodynia under a persistent inflammatory pain condition 
Pain  2010;148(2):309.
Peripheral inflammation induces persistent central sensitization characterized by mechanical allodynia and heat hyperalgesia that are mediated by distinct mechanisms. Compared to well-demonstrated mechanisms of heat hyperalgesia, mechanisms underlying the development of mechanical allodynia and contralateral pain are incompletely known. In this study, we investigated the distinct role of spinal JNK in heat hyperalgesia, mechanical allodynia, and contralateral pain in an inflammatory pain model. Intraplantar injection of complete Freund’s adjuvant (CFA) induced bilateral mechanical allodynia but unilateral heat hyperalgesia. CFA also induced a bilateral activation (phosphorylation) of JNK in the spinal cord, and the phospho JNK1 (pJNK1) levels were much higher than that of pJNK2. Notably, both pJNK and JNK1 were expressed in GFAP-positive astrocytes. Intrathecal infusion of a selective peptide inhibitor of JNK, D-JNKI-1, starting before inflammation via an osmotic pump, reduced CFA-induced mechanical allodynia in the maintenance phase but had no effect on CFA-induced heat hyperalgesia. A bolus intrathecal injection of D-JNKI-1 or SP600126, a small molecule inhibitor of JNK also reversed mechanical allodynia bilaterally. In contrast, peripheral (intraplantar) administration of D-JNKI-1 reduced the induction of CFA-induced heat hyperalgesia but did not change mechanical allodynia. Finally, CFA-induced bilateral mechanical allodynia was attenuated in mice lacking JNK1 but not JNK2. Taken together, our data suggest that spinal JNK, in particular JNK1 plays an important role in the maintenance of persistent inflammatory pain. Our findings also reveal a unique role of JNK1 and astrocyte network in regulating tactile allodynia and contralateral pain.
PMCID: PMC2814908  PMID: 20022176
c-Jun-N-terminal kinase; MAP kinase; Astrocytes; Spinal cord; Contralateral pain; Inflammation; Tactile allodynia
11.  Differential protection against oxidative stress and nitric oxide overproduction in cardiovascular and pulmonary systems by propofol during endotoxemia 
Both overproduction of nitric oxide (NO) and oxidative injury of cardiovascular and pulmonary systems contribute to fatal cardiovascular depression during endotoxemia. We investigated in the present study the relative contribution of oxidative stress and NO to cardiovascular depression during different stages of endotoxemia, and delineated their roles in cardiovascular protective effects of a commonly used anesthetic propofol during endotoxemia.
Experimental endotoxemia was induced by systemic injection of E. coli lipopolysaccharide (LPS, 15 mg/kg) to Sprague-Dawley rats that were maintained under propofol (15 or 30 mg/kg/h, i.v.) anesthesia. Mean systemic arterial pressure (MSAP) and heart rate (HR) were monitored for 6 h after the endotoxin. Tissue level of NO was measured by chemical reduction-linked chemiluminescence and oxidative burst activity was determined using dihydroethidium method. Expression of NO synthase (NOS) was determined by immunoblotting. The Scheffé multiple range test was used for post hoc statistical analysis.
Systemic injection of LPS (15 mg/kg) induced biphasic decreases in MSAP and HR. In the heart, lung and aorta, an abrupt increase in lipid peroxidation, our experimental index of oxidative tissue injury, was detected in early stage and sustained during late stage cardiovascular depression. LPS injection, on the other hand, induced a gradual increase in tissue nitrite and nitrate levels in the same organs that peaked during late stage endotoxemia. Propofol infusion (15 or 30 mg/kg/h, i.v.) significantly attenuated lipid peroxidation in the heart, lung and aorta during early and late stage endotoxemia. High dose (30 mg/kg/h, i.v.) propofol also reversed the LPS-induced inducible NO synthase (iNOS) upregulation and NO production in the aorta, alongside a significant amelioration of late stage cardiovascular depression and increase in survival time during endotoxemia.
Together these results suggest that oxidative injury and NO may play a differential role in LPS-induced cardiovascular depression. Oxidative tissue injury is associated with both early and late stage; whereas NO is engaged primarily in late stage cardiovascular depression. Moreover, propofol anesthesia may protect against fatal cardiovascular depression during endotoxemia by attenuating the late stage NO surge in the aorta, possibly via inhibition of iNOS upregulation by the endotoxin.
PMCID: PMC2653513  PMID: 19272174

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