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1.  Mthfr gene ablation enhances susceptibility to arsenic prenatal toxicity 
In utero exposure to arsenic is known to adversely affect reproductive outcomes. Evidence of arsenic teratogenicity vary widely and depend on individual genotypic differences in sensitivity to As. In this study, we investigated the potential interaction between 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (Mthfr) genotype and arsenic embryotoxicity using the Mthfr knockout mouse model.
Pregnant dams were treated with sodium arsenate, and reproductive outcomes including: implantation, resorption, congenital malformation and fetal birth weight were recorded at E18.5.
When the dams in Mthfr+/− x Mthfr+/− matings were treated with 7.2mg/kg As, the resorption rate increased to 43.4%, from a background frequency of 7.2%. The As treatment also induced external malformations (40.9%) and significantly lowered the average fetal birth weight among fetuses, without any obvious toxic effect on the dam. When comparing the pregnancy outcomes resulting from different mating scenarios (Mthfr+/+ x Mthfr+/−, Mthfr+/− x Mthfr+/− and Mthfr−/− x Mthfr+/−) and arsenic exposure; the resorption rate showed a linear relationship with the number of null alleles (0, 1 or 2) in the Mthfr dams. Fetuses from nullizygous dams had the highest rate of external malformations (43%) and lowest average birth weight. When comparing the outcomes of reciprocal matings (nullizygote x wild-type versus wild-type x nullizygote) after As treatment, the null dams showed significantly higher rates of resorptions and malformations, along with lower fetal birth weights.
Maternal genotype contributes to the sensitivity of As embryotoxicity in the Mthfr mouse model. The fetal genotype, however, does not appear to affect the reproductive outcome after in utero As exposure.
PMCID: PMC3943866  PMID: 24384392
Sodium arsenate; 5, 10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR); Mthfr knockout mice; embryotoxicity; gene-environment interaction; teratogenicity
2.  Transcriptional Analyses of Two Mouse Models of Spina Bifida 
Spina bifida is one of the most common of all human structural birth defects. Despite considerable effort over several decades, the causes and mechanisms underlying this malformation remain poorly characterized. In order to better understand the pathogenesis of this abnormality, we conducted a microarray study using Mouse Whole Genome Bioarrays which have ~36,000 gene targets, to compare gene expression profiles between two mouse models; CXL-Splotch and Fkbp8Gt(neo)which express a similar spina bifida phenotype. We anticipated that there would be a collection of overlapping genes or shared genetic pathways at the molecular level indicative of a common mechanism underlying the pathogenesis of spina bifida during embryonic development.
A total of 54 genes were determined to be differentially expressed (25 down regulated, 29 upregulated) in the Fkbp8Gt(neo) mouse embryos; while 73 genes were differentially expressed (56 down regulated, 17 upregulated) in the CXL-Splotch mouse relative to their wildtype controls. Remarkably, the only two genes that showed decreased expression in both mutants were v-ski sarcoma viral oncogene homolog (Ski), and Zic1, a transcription factor member of the zinc finger family. Confirmation analysis using real time qRT-PCR indicated that only Zic1 was significantly decreased in both mutants. Gene Ontology analysis revealed striking enrichment of genes associated with mesoderm and central nervous system development in the CXL-Splotch mutant embryos, whereas in the Fkbp8Gt(neo) mutants, the genes involved in dorsal/ventral pattern formation, cell fate specification, and positive regulation of cell differentiation were most likely to be enriched. These results indicate that there are multiple pathways and gene networks perturbed in mouse embryos with shared phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC3505988  PMID: 23024056
spina bifida; gene expression; microarray; mouse mutants
Epidemiological studies have linked environmental arsenic (As) exposure to increased type 2 diabetes risk. Periconceptional hyperglycemia is a significant risk factor for neural tube defects (NTDs), the second most common structural birth defect. A suspected teratogen, arsenic (As) induces NTDs in laboratory animals.
We investigated whether maternal glucose homeostasis disruption was responsible for arsenate-induced NTDs in a well-established dosing regimen used in studies of arsenic’s teratogenicity in early neurodevelopment.
We evaluated maternal intraperitoneal (I.P.) exposure to As 9.6 mg/kg (as sodium arsenate) in LM/Bc/Fnn mice for teratogenicity and disruption of maternal plasma glucose and insulin levels. Selected compounds (insulin pellet, sodium selenate (SS), N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), L-methionine (L-Met), N-tert-Butyl-α-phenylnitrone (PBN)) were investigated for their potential to mitigate arsenate’s effects.
Arsenate caused significant glucose elevation during an I.P. glucose tolerance test (IPGTT). Insulin levels were not different between arsenate and control dams before (arsenate, 0.55 ng/dl; control, 0.48 ng/dl) or after glucose challenge (arsenate, 1.09 ng/dl; control, 0.81 ng/dl). HOMA-IR index was higher for arsenate (3.9) vs control (2.5) dams (p=0.0260). Arsenate caused NTDs (100%, p<0.0001). Insulin pellet and NAC were the most successful rescue agents, reducing NTD rates to 45% and 35%.
IPGTT, insulin assay, and HOMA-IR results suggest a modest failure of glucose stimulated insulin secretion and insulin resistance characteristic of glucose intolerance. Insulin’s success in preventing arsenate-induced NTDs provides evidence that these arsenate-induced NTDs are secondary to elevated maternal glucose. The NAC rescue, which did not restore maternal glucose or insulin levels, suggests oxidative disruption plays a role.
PMCID: PMC3998373  PMID: 19446573
arsenate; arsenic; glucose intolerance; insulin resistance; mouse; neural tube defect; oxidative stress; teratogen
4.  Antiepileptic Drugs and Pregnancy Outcomes 
The treatment of epilepsy in women of reproductive age remains a clinical challenge. While most women with epilepsy require anticonvulsant drugs for adequate control of their seizures, the teratogenicity associated with some antiepileptic drugs is a risk that needs to be carefully addressed. Antiepileptic medications are also used to treat an ever broadening range of medical conditions such as bipolar disorder, migraine prophylaxis, cancer and neuropathic pain. Despite the fact that the majority of pregnancies of women with epilepsy who are receiving pharmacological treatment are normal, studies have demonstrated that the risk of having a pregnancy complicated by a major congenital malformation is doubled when comparing the risk of untreated pregnancies. Furthermore, when antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) are used in polytherapy regimens, the risk is tripled, especially when valproic acid (VPA) is included. However, it should be noted that the risks are specific for each anticonvulsant drug. Some investigations have suggested that the risk of teratogenicity is increased in a dose-dependent manner. More recent studies have reported that in utero exposure to AEDs can have detrimental effects on the cognitive functions and language skills in later stages of life. In fact, the FDA just issued a safety announcement on the impact of VPA on cognition (Safety Announcement 6-30-2011). The purpose of this document is to review the most commonly used compounds in the treatment of women with epilepsy, and to provide information on the latest experimental and human epidemiological studies of the effects of antiepileptic drugs in the exposed embryos.
PMCID: PMC3402584  PMID: 22711424
antiepileptic drugs; teratogenicity; pregnancy; birth defects; epilepsy
5.  Fuz Regulates Craniofacial Development through Tissue Specific Responses to Signaling Factors 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24608.
The planar cell polarity effector gene Fuz regulates ciliogenesis and Fuz loss of function studies reveal an array of embryonic phenotypes. However, cilia defects can affect many signaling pathways and, in humans, cilia defects underlie several craniofacial anomalies. To address this, we analyzed the craniofacial phenotype and signaling responses of the Fuz−/− mice. We demonstrate a unique role for Fuz in regulating both Hedgehog (Hh) and Wnt/β-catenin signaling during craniofacial development. Fuz expression first appears in the dorsal tissues and later in ventral tissues and craniofacial regions during embryonic development coincident with cilia development. The Fuz−/− mice exhibit severe craniofacial deformities including anophthalmia, agenesis of the tongue and incisors, a hypoplastic mandible, cleft palate, ossification/skeletal defects and hyperplastic malformed Meckel's cartilage. Hh signaling is down-regulated in the Fuz null mice, while canonical Wnt signaling is up-regulated revealing the antagonistic relationship of these two pathways. Meckel's cartilage is expanded in the Fuz−/− mice due to increased cell proliferation associated with the up-regulation of Wnt canonical target genes and decreased non-canonical pathway genes. Interestingly, cilia development was decreased in the mandible mesenchyme of Fuz null mice, suggesting that cilia may antagonize Wnt signaling in this tissue. Furthermore, expression of Fuz decreased expression of Wnt pathway genes as well as a Wnt-dependent reporter. Finally, chromatin IP experiments demonstrate that β-catenin/TCF-binding directly regulates Fuz expression. These data demonstrate a new model for coordination of Hh and Wnt signaling and reveal a Fuz-dependent negative feedback loop controlling Wnt/β-catenin signaling.
PMCID: PMC3173472  PMID: 21935430
6.  Teratogenic effects of antiepileptic drugs 
Many antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) have therapeutic applications that extend beyond epilepsy to include neuropathic pain, migraine headaches and psychiatric disorders. The risk of some AEDs has been clearly established, but for newer drugs, small sample sizes and polytherapy exposures preclude a conclusive determination of their teratogenic potential. Most women with epilepsy will require AED therapy throughout their entire pregnancy to control seizures; the vast majority of pregnancies in women with epilepsy have positive outcomes. A conservative estimate suggests that AED monotherapy doubles, and polytherapy triples, the risk for major congenital malformations. Furthermore, while evidence is still accruing, recent investigations suggest that exposure to select AEDs results in altered cognitive function later in development. There is no evidence to suggest that additional folic acid supplementation ameliorates the increased risk of congenital malformations conferred by in utero AED exposure.
PMCID: PMC2970517  PMID: 20518610
AED; birth defects; carbamazepine; epilepsy; lamotrigine; levetiracetam; phenobarbital; phenytoin; teratogen; topiramate; valproate
7.  The planar cell polarity effector Fuz is essential for targeted membrane trafficking, ciliogenesis, and mouse embryonic development 
Nature cell biology  2009;11(10):1225-1232.
The planar cell polarity (PCP) signaling pathway is essential for embryonic development because it governs diverse cellular behaviors, and the “core PCP” proteins, such as Dishevelled and Frizzled, have been extensively characterized1–4. By contrast, the “PCP effector” proteins, such as Intu and Fuz, remain largely unstudied5, 6. These proteins are essential for PCP signaling, but they have never been investigated in a mammal and their cell biological activities remain entirely unknown. We report here that Fuz mutant mice display neural tube defects, skeletal dysmorphologies, and Hedgehog signaling defects stemming from disrupted ciliogenesis. Using bioinformatics and imaging of an in vivo mucociliary epithelium, we establish a central role for Fuz in membrane trafficking, showing that Fuz is essential for trafficking of cargo to basal bodies and to the apical tips of cilia. Fuz is also essential for exocytosis in secretory cells. Finally, we identify a novel, Rab-related small GTPase as a Fuz interaction partner that is also essential for ciliogenesis and secretion. These results are significant because they provide novel insights into the mechanisms by which developmental regulatory systems like PCP signaling interface with fundamental cellular systems such as the vesicle trafficking machinery.
PMCID: PMC2755648  PMID: 19767740
8.  Differentially expressed genes in embryonic cardiac tissues of mice lacking Folr1 gene activity 
Heart anomalies are the most frequently observed among all human congenital defects. As with the situation for neural tube defects (NTDs), it has been demonstrated that women who use multivitamins containing folic acid peri-conceptionally have a reduced risk for delivering offspring with conotruncal heart defects [1-3]. Cellular folate transport is mediated by a receptor or binding protein and by an anionic transporter protein system. Defective function of the Folr1 (also known as Folbp1; homologue of human FRα) gene in mice results in inadequate transport, accumulation, or metabolism of folate during cardiovascular morphogenesis.
We have observed cardiovascular abnormalities including outflow tract and aortic arch arterial defects in genetically compromised Folr1 knockout mice. In order to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying the failure to complete development of outflow tract and aortic arch arteries in the Folr1 knockout mouse model, we examined tissue-specific gene expression difference between Folr1 nullizygous embryos and morphologically normal heterozygous embryos during early cardiac development (14-somite stage), heart tube looping (28-somite stage), and outflow track septation (38-somite stage). Microarray analysis was performed as a primary screening, followed by investigation using quantitative real-time PCR assays. Gene ontology analysis highlighted the following ontology groups: cell migration, cell motility and localization of cells, structural constituent of cytoskeleton, cell-cell adhesion, oxidoreductase, protein folding and mRNA processing. This study provided preliminary data and suggested potential candidate genes for further description and investigation.
The results suggested that Folr1 gene ablation and abnormal folate homeostasis altered gene expression in developing heart and conotruncal tissues. These changes affected normal cytoskeleton structures, cell migration and motility as well as cellular redox status, which may contribute to cardiovascular abnormalities in mouse embryos lacking Folr1 gene activity.
PMCID: PMC2206038  PMID: 18028541

Results 1-8 (8)