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1.  Developing Defined and Scalable 3D Culture Systems for Culturing Human Pluripotent Stem Cells at High Densities 
Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) – including embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) – are very promising candidates for cell therapies, tissue engineering, high throughput pharmacology screens, and toxicity testing. These applications require large numbers of high quality cells; however, scalable production of human pluripotent stem cells and their derivatives at a high density and under well-defined conditions has been a challenge. We recently reported a simple, efficient, fully defined, scalable, and good manufacturing practice (GMP) compatible 3D culture system based on a thermoreversible hydrogel for hPSC expansion and differentiation. Here, we describe additional design rationale and characterization of this system. For instance, we have determined that culturing hPSCs as a suspension in a liquid medium can exhibit lower volumetric yields due to cell agglomeration and possible shear force-induced cell loss. By contrast, using hydrogels as 3D scaffolds for culturing hPSCs reduces aggregation and may insulate from shear forces. Additionally, hydrogel-based 3D culture systems can support efficient hPSC expansion and differentiation at a high density if compatible with hPSC biology. Finally, there are considerable opportunities for future development to further enhance hydrogel-based 3D culture systems for producing hPSCs and their progeny.
PMCID: PMC4237222  PMID: 25419247
human embryonic stem cells; induced pluripotent stem cells; 3D culture system; thermoreversible hydrogel
2.  Systemic attenuation of the TGF-β pathway by a single drug simultaneously rejuvenates hippocampal neurogenesis and myogenesis in the same old mammal 
Oncotarget  2015;6(14):11959-11978.
Stem cell function declines with age largely due to the biochemical imbalances in their tissue niches, and this work demonstrates that aging imposes an elevation in transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) signaling in the neurogenic niche of the hippocampus, analogous to the previously demonstrated changes in the myogenic niche of skeletal muscle with age. Exploring the hypothesis that youthful calibration of key signaling pathways may enhance regeneration of multiple old tissues, we found that systemically attenuating TGF-β signaling with a single drug simultaneously enhanced neurogenesis and muscle regeneration in the same old mice, findings further substantiated via genetic perturbations. At the levels of cellular mechanism, our results establish that the age-specific increase in TGF-β1 in the stem cell niches of aged hippocampus involves microglia and that such an increase is pro-inflammatory both in brain and muscle, as assayed by the elevated expression of β2 microglobulin (B2M), a component of MHC class I molecules. These findings suggest that at high levels typical of aged tissues, TGF-β1 promotes inflammation instead of its canonical role in attenuating immune responses. In agreement with this conclusion, inhibition of TGF-β1 signaling normalized B2M to young levels in both studied tissues.
PMCID: PMC4494916  PMID: 26003168
aging; stem cell microenvironment; neurogenesis; TGF-β signaling; myogenesis
3.  Orthogonal control of expression mean and variance by epigenetic features at different genomic loci 
Molecular Systems Biology  2015;11(5):806.
While gene expression noise has been shown to drive dramatic phenotypic variations, the molecular basis for this variability in mammalian systems is not well understood. Gene expression has been shown to be regulated by promoter architecture and the associated chromatin environment. However, the exact contribution of these two factors in regulating expression noise has not been explored. Using a dual-reporter lentiviral model system, we deconvolved the influence of the promoter sequence to systematically study the contribution of the chromatin environment at different genomic locations in regulating expression noise. By integrating a large-scale analysis to quantify mRNA levels by smFISH and protein levels by flow cytometry in single cells, we found that mean expression and noise are uncorrelated across genomic locations. Furthermore, we showed that this independence could be explained by the orthogonal control of mean expression by the transcript burst size and noise by the burst frequency. Finally, we showed that genomic locations displaying higher expression noise are associated with more repressed chromatin, thereby indicating the contribution of the chromatin environment in regulating expression noise.
doi:10.15252/msb.20145704
PMCID: PMC4461400  PMID: 25943345
chromatin environment; gene expression noise; single-cell biology; single-molecule RNA FISH
4.  Functional Genomics, Genetics, and Bioinformatics 
BioMed Research International  2015;2015:184824.
doi:10.1155/2015/184824
PMCID: PMC4421104  PMID: 25977917
5.  Engineering adeno-associated viruses for clinical gene therapy 
Nature reviews. Genetics  2014;15(7):445-451.
Clinical gene therapy has been increasingly successful, due both to an enhanced molecular understanding of human disease and to progressively improving gene delivery technologies. Among the latter, delivery vectors based on adeno-associated virus (AAV) have emerged as safe and effective – in one recent case leading to regulatory approval. Although shortcomings in viral vector properties will render extension of such successes to many other human diseases challenging, new approaches to engineer and improve AAV vectors and their genetic cargo are increasingly helping to overcome these barriers.
doi:10.1038/nrg3742
PMCID: PMC4393649  PMID: 24840552
6.  Antibody Neutralization Poses a Barrier to Intravitreal Adeno-Associated Viral Vector Gene Delivery to Non-Human Primates 
Gene therapy  2014;22(2):116-126.
Gene delivery vectors based on adeno-associated viruses (AAV) have exhibited promise in both preclinical disease models and human clinical trials for numerous disease targets, including the retinal degenerative disorders Leber's congenital amaurosis and choroideremia. One general challenge for AAV is that pre-existing immunity, as well as subsequent development of immunity following vector administration, can severely inhibit systemic AAV vector gene delivery. However, the role of neutralizing antibodies (NABs) in AAV transduction of tissues considered to be immune privileged, such as the eye, is unclear in large animals. Intravitreal AAV administration allows for broad retinal delivery, but is more susceptible to interactions with the immune system than subretinal administration. To assess the effects of systemic anti-AAV antibody levels on intravitreal gene delivery, we quantified the anti-AAV antibodies present in sera from non-human primates before and after intravitreal injections with various AAV capsids. Analysis showed that intravitreal administration resulted in an increase in anti-AAV antibodies regardless of the capsid serotype, transgene, or dosage of virus injected. For monkeys injected with wild-type AAV2 and/or an AAV2 mutant, the variable that most significantly affected the production of anti-AAV2 antibodies was the amount of virus delivered. In addition, post-injection antibody titers were highest against the serotype administered, but the antibodies were also cross-reactive against other AAV serotypes. Furthermore, neutralizing antibody levels in serum correlated with those in vitreal fluid, demonstrating both that this route of administration exposes AAV capsid epitopes to the adaptive immune system and that serum measurements are predictive of vitreous fluid NAB titers. Moreover, the presence of pre-existing neutralizing antibody titers in the serum of monkeys correlated strongly (R=0.76) with weak, decaying, or no transgene expression following intravitreal administration of AAV. Investigating anti-AAV antibody development will aid in understanding the interactions between gene therapy vectors and the immune system during ocular administration and can form a basis for future clinical studies applying intravitreal gene delivery.
doi:10.1038/gt.2014.115
PMCID: PMC4393652  PMID: 25503696
7.  Efficient derivation of cortical glutamatergic neurons from human pluripotent stem cells: A model system to study neurotoxicity in Alzheimer's disease 
Neurobiology of disease  2013;62:62-72.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is among the most prevalent forms of dementia affecting the aging population, and pharmacological therapies to date have not been successful in preventing disease progression. Future therapeutic efforts may benefit from the development of models that enable basic investigation of early disease pathology. In particular, disease-relevant models based on human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) may be promising approaches to assess the impact of neurotoxic agents in AD on specific neuronal populations and thereby facilitate the development of novel interventions to avert early disease mechanisms. We implemented an efficient paradigm to convert hPSCs into enriched populations of cortical glutamatergic neurons emerging from dorsal forebrain neural progenitors, aided by modulating Sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling. Since AD is generally known to be toxic to glutamatergic circuits, we exposed glutamatergic neurons derived from hESCs to an oligomeric pre-fibrillar forms of Aβ known as “globulomers”, which have shown strong correlation with the level of cognitive deficits in AD. Administration of such Aβ oligomers yielded signs of the disease, including cell culture age-dependent binding of Aβ and cell death in the glutamatergic populations. Furthermore, consistent with previous findings in postmortem human AD brain Aβ-induced toxicity was selective for glutamatergic rather than GABAeric neurons present in our cultures. This in vitro model of cortical glutamatergic neurons thus offers a system for future mechanistic investigation and therapeutic development for AD pathology using human cell types specifically affected by this disease.
doi:10.1016/j.nbd.2013.09.005
PMCID: PMC4122237  PMID: 24055772
8.  Single-cell western blotting 
Nature methods  2014;11(7):749-755.
To measure cell-to-cell variation in protein-mediated functions — a hallmark of biological processes — we developed an approach to conduct ~103 concurrent single-cell western blots (scWesterns) in ~4 hours. A microscope slide supporting a 30 µm-thick photoactive polyacrylamide gel enables western blotting comprised of: settling of single cells into microwells, lysis in situ, gel electrophoresis, photoinitiated blotting to immobilize proteins, and antibody probing. We apply this scWestern to monitor single rat neural stem cell differentiation and responses to mitogen stimulation. The scWestern quantifies target proteins even with off-target antibody binding, multiplexes to 11 protein targets per single cell with detection thresholds of <30,000 molecules, and supports analyses of low starting cell numbers (~200) when integrated with fluorescence activated cell sorting. The scWestern thus overcomes limitations in single-cell protein analysis (i.e., antibody fidelity, sensitivity, and starting cell number) and constitutes a versatile tool for the study of complex cell populations at single-cell resolution.
doi:10.1038/nmeth.2992
PMCID: PMC4077215  PMID: 24880876
9.  Advances in AAV Vector Development for Gene Therapy in the Retina 
Adeno-associated virus (AAV) is a small, non-pathogenic dependovirus that has shown great potential for safe and long-term expression of a genetic pay-load in the retina. AAV has been used to treat a growing number of animal models of inherited retinal degeneration, though drawbacks—including a limited carrying capacity, slow onset of expression, and a limited ability to transduce some retinal cell types from the vitreous—restrict the utility of AAV for treating some forms of inherited eye disease. Next generation AAV vectors are being created to address these needs, through rational design efforts such as the creation of self-complementary AAV vectors for faster onset of expression and specific mutations of surface-exposed residues to increase transduction of viral particles. Furthermore, directed evolution has been used to create, through an iterative process of selection, novel variants of AAV with newly acquired, advantageous characteristics. These novel AAV variants have been shown to improve the therapeutic potential of AAV vectors, and further improvements may be achieved through rational design, directed evolution, or a combination of these approaches, leading to broader applicability of AAV and improved treatments for inherited retinal degeneration.
doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-3209-8_86
PMCID: PMC4267879  PMID: 24664759
Adeno-associated virus; Gene therapy; Mutagenesis; Directed evolution; Retinal degeneration
10.  Retinoschisin gene therapy in photoreceptors, Müller glia, or all retinal cells in the Rs1h−/− mouse 
Gene therapy  2014;21(6):585-592.
X-linked retinoschisis, a disease characterized by splitting of the retina, is caused by mutations in the retinoschisin gene, which encodes a secreted cell adhesion protein. Currently, there is no effective treatment for retinoschisis, though viral vector-mediated gene replacement therapies offer promise. We used intravitreal delivery of three different AAV vectors to target delivery of the RS1 gene to Müller glia, photoreceptors, or multiple cell types throughout the retina. Müller glia radially span the entire retina, are accessible from the vitreous, and remain intact throughout progression of the disease. However, photoreceptors, not glia, normally secrete retinoschisin. We compared the efficacy of rescue mediated by retinoschisin secretion from these specific subtypes of retinal cells in the Rs1h−/− mouse model of retinoschisis. Our results indicate that all three vectors deliver the RS1 gene, and that several cell types can secrete retinoschisin, leading to transport of the protein across the retina. The greatest long-term rescue was observed when photoreceptors produce retinoschisin. Similar rescue was observed with photoreceptor-specific or generalized expression, though photoreceptor secretion may contribute to rescue in the latter case. These results collectively point to the importance of cell targeting and appropriate vector choice in the success of retinal gene therapies.
doi:10.1038/gt.2014.31
PMCID: PMC4047144  PMID: 24694538
Gene therapy; X-linked retinoschisis; AAV vectors; photoreceptors; Müller glia; cell targeting
11.  Imaging Light Responses of Foveal Ganglion Cells in the Living Macaque Eye 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2014;34(19):6596-6605.
The fovea dominates primate vision, and its anatomy and perceptual abilities are well studied, but its physiology has been little explored because of limitations of current physiological methods. In this study, we adapted a novel in vivo imaging method, originally developed in mouse retina, to explore foveal physiology in the macaque, which permits the repeated imaging of the functional response of many retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) simultaneously. A genetically encoded calcium indicator, G-CaMP5, was inserted into foveal RGCs, followed by calcium imaging of the displacement of foveal RGCs from their receptive fields, and their intensity-response functions. The spatial offset of foveal RGCs from their cone inputs makes this method especially appropriate for fovea by permitting imaging of RGC responses without excessive light adaptation of cones. This new method will permit the tracking of visual development, progression of retinal disease, or therapeutic interventions, such as insertion of visual prostheses.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4438-13.2014
PMCID: PMC4012315  PMID: 24806684
calcium imaging; in vivo adaptive optics imaging; intrinsic signal imaging; primate fovea; retinal ganglion cells
12.  Biogenic Gas Nanostructures as Ultrasonic Molecular Reporters 
Nature nanotechnology  2014;9(4):311-316.
Ultrasound is among the most widely used non-invasive imaging modalities in biomedicine1, but plays a surprisingly small role in molecular imaging due to a lack of suitable molecular reporters on the nanoscale. Here we introduce a new class of reporters for ultrasound based on genetically encoded gas nanostructures from microorganisms, including bacteria and archaea. Gas vesicles are gas-filled protein-shelled compartments with typical widths of 45–250 nm and lengths of 100–600 nm that exclude water and are permeable to gas2, 3. We show that gas vesicles produce stable ultrasound contrast that is readily detected in vitro and in vivo, that their genetically encoded physical properties enable multiple modes of imaging, and that contrast enhancement through aggregation permits their use as molecular biosensors.
doi:10.1038/nnano.2014.32
PMCID: PMC4023545  PMID: 24633522
13.  MICROFLUIDIC PLATFORM FOR REAL-TIME SIGNALING ANALYSIS OF MULTIPLE SINGLE T CELLS IN PARALLEL 
Lab on a chip  2008;8(10):1700-1712.
Deciphering the signaling pathways that govern stimulation of naïve CD4+ T helper cells by antigen-presenting cells via formation of the immunological synapse is key to a fundamental understanding of the progression of successful adaptive immune response. The study of T cell – APC interactions in vitro is challenging, however, due to the difficulty of tracking individual, nonadherent cell pairs over time. Studying single cell dynamics over time reveals rare, but critical, signaling events that might be averaged out in bulk experiments, but these less common events are undoubtedly important for an integrated understanding of a cellular response to its microenvironment. We describe a novel application of microfluidic technology that overcomes many limitations of conventional cell culture and enables the study of hundreds of passively sequestered hematopoietic cells for extended periods of time. This microfluidic cell trap device consists of 440 18 μm×18 μm×10 μm PDMS, bucket-like structures opposing the direction of flow which serve as corrals for cells as they pass through the cell trap region. Cell viability analysis revealed that more than 70% of naïve CD4+ T cells (TN), held in place using only hydrodynamic forces, subsequently remain viable for 24 hours. Cytosolic calcium transients were successfully induced in TN cells following introduction of chemical, antibody, or cellular forms of stimulation. Statistical analysis of TN cells from a single stimulation experiment reveals the power of this platform to distinguish different calcium response patterns, an ability that might be utilized to characterize T cell signaling states in a given population. Finally, we investigate in real-time contact and non-contact-based interactions between primary T cells and dendritic cells, two main participants in the formation of the immunological synapse. Utilizing the microfluidic traps in a daisy-chain configuration allowed us to observe calcium transients in TN cells exposed only to media conditioned by secretions of lipopolysaccharide-matured dendritic cells, an event which is easily missed in conventional cell culture where large media-to-cell ratios dilute cellular products. Further investigation into this intercellular signaling event indicated that LPS-matured dendritic cells, in the absence of antigenic stimulation, secrete chemical signals that induce calcium transients in TN cells. While the stimulating factor(s) produced by the mature dendritic cells remains to be identified, this report illustrates the utility of these microfluidic cell traps for analyzing arrays of individual suspension cells over time and probing both contact-based and inter-cellular signaling events between one or more cell populations.
doi:10.1039/b719799c
PMCID: PMC4160168  PMID: 18813394
14.  A metering rotary nanopump for microfluidic systems 
Lab on a chip  2010;10(23):3218-3226.
We describe the design, fabrication, and testing of a microfabricated metering rotary nanopump for the purpose of driving fluid flow in microfluidic devices. The miniature peristaltic pump is composed of a set of microfluidic channels wrapped in a helix around a central cam shaft in which a non-cylindrical cam rotates. The cam compresses the helical channels to induce peristaltic flow as it is rotated. The polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) nanopump design is able to produce intermittent delivery or removal of several nanoliters of fluid per revolution as well as consistent continuous flow rates ranging from as low as 15 nL/min to above 1.0 µL/min. At back pressures encountered in typical microfluidic devices, the pump acts as a high impedance flow source. The durability, biocompatibility, ease of integration with soft-lithographic fabrication, the use of a simple rotary motor instead of multiple synchronized pneumatic or mechanical actuators, and the absence of power consumption or fluidic conductance in the resting state all contribute to a compact pump with a low cost of fabrication and versatile implementation. This suggests that the pump design may be useful for a wide variety of biological experiments and point of care devices.
doi:10.1039/c0lc00087f
PMCID: PMC4156019  PMID: 20959938
15.  Mechanisms of action of hESC-secreted proteins that enhance human and mouse myogenesis 
Aging (Albany NY)  2014;6(8):602-620.
Adult stem cells grow poorly in vitro compared to embryonic stem cells, and in vivo stem cell maintenance and proliferation by tissue niches progressively deteriorates with age. We previously reported that factors produced by human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) support a robust regenerative capacity for adult and old mouse muscle stem/progenitor cells. Here we extend these findings to human muscle progenitors and investigate underlying molecular mechanisms. Our results demonstrate that hESC-conditioned medium enhanced the proliferation of mouse and human muscle progenitors. Furthermore, hESC-produced factors activated MAPK and Notch signaling in human myogenic progenitors, and Delta/Notch-1 activation was dependent on MAPK/pERK. The Wnt, TGF-β and BMP/pSmad1,5,8 pathways were unresponsive to hESC-produced factors, but BMP signaling was dependent on intact MAPK/pERK. c-Myc, p57, and p18 were key effectors of the enhanced myogenesis promoted by the hECS factors. To define some of the active ingredients of the hESC-secretome which may have therapeutic potential, a comparative proteomic antibody array analysis was performed and identified several putative proteins, including FGF2, 6 and 19 which as ligands for MAPK signaling, were investigated in more detail. These studies emphasize that a “youthful” signaling of multiple signaling pathways is responsible for the pro-regenerative activity of the hESC factors.
PMCID: PMC4169857  PMID: 25109702
hESC; muscle; myogenesis; Notch; MAPK; aging; rejuvenation; stem cell
16.  Multivalent ligands to control stem cell behaviour in vitro and in vivo 
Nature nanotechnology  2013;8(11):10.1038/nnano.2013.205.
There is broad interest in designing nanostructured materials that can interact with cells and regulate key downstream functions1–7. In particular, materials with nanoscale features may enable control over multivalent interactions, which involve the simultaneous binding of multiple ligands on one entity to multiple receptors on another and are ubiquitous throughout biology8–10. Cellular signal transduction of growth factor and morphogen cues that play critical roles in regulating cell function and fate often begins with such multivalent binding of ligands, either secreted or cell-surface tethered, to target cell receptors, leading to receptor clustering11–18. Cellular mechanisms that orchestrate ligand-receptor oligomerisation are complex, however, and the capacity to control multivalent interactions and thereby modulate key signaling events within living systems is therefore currently very limited. Here we demonstrate the design of potent multivalent conjugates that can organise stem cell receptors into nanoscale clusters and control stem cell behaviour in vitro and in vivo. The ectodomain of ephrin-B2, normally an integral membrane protein ligand, was conjugated to a soluble biopolymer to yield multivalent nanoscale conjugates that potently induced signaling in neural stem cells and promoted their neuronal differentiation both in culture and within the brain. Super-resolution microscopy analysis yielded insights into the organisation of receptor-ligand clusters at the nanoscale. We also found that synthetic multivalent conjugates of ephrin-B1 strongly enhanced human embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cell differentiation into functional dopaminergic neurons. Multivalent bioconjugates thus represent powerful tools and potential nanoscale therapeutics for controlling the behaviour of target stem cells in vitro and in vivo.
doi:10.1038/nnano.2013.205
PMCID: PMC3830932  PMID: 24141540
18.  Engineering a serum-resistant and thermostable vesicular stomatitis virus G glycoprotein for pseudotyping retroviral and lentiviral vectors 
Gene therapy  2013;20(8):807-815.
Vesicular stomatitis virus G glycoprotein (VSV-G) is the most widely used envelope protein for retroviral and lentiviral vector pseudotyping; however, serum inactivation of VSV-G pseudotyped vectors is a significant challenge for in vivo gene delivery. To address this problem, we conducted directed evolution of VSV-G to increase its resistance to human serum neutralization. After six selection cycles, numerous common mutations were present. Based on their location within VSV-G, we analyzed whether substitutions in several surface exposed residues could endow viral vectors with higher resistance to serum. S162T, T230N, and T368A mutations enhanced serum resistance, and additionally K66T, T368A, and E380K substitutions increased the thermostability of VSV-G pseudotyped retroviral vectors, an advantageous byproduct of the selection strategy. Analysis of a number of combined mutants revealed that VSV-G harboring T230N + T368A or K66T + S162T + T230N + T368A mutations exhibited both higher in vitro resistance to human serum and higher thermostability, as well as enhanced resistance to rabbit and mouse serum. Finally, lentiviral vectors pseudotyped with these variants were more resistant to human serum in a murine model. These serum-resistant and thermostable VSV-G variants may aid the application of retroviral and lentiviral vectors to gene therapy.
doi:10.1038/gt.2013.1
PMCID: PMC3735647  PMID: 23364315
serum-resistant; thermostable; VSV-G; directed evolution; pseudotyping
19.  Molecular characterization of multivalent bioconjugates by size-exclusion chromatography (SEC) with multi-angle laser light scattering (MALS) 
Bioconjugate chemistry  2012;23(9):1794-1801.
The degree of substitution and valency of bioconjugate reaction products are often poorly judged or require multiple time- and product- consuming chemical characterization methods. These aspects become critical when analyzing and optimizing the potency of costly polyvalent bioactive conjugates. In this study, size-exclusion chromatography with multi-angle laser light scattering was paired with refractive index detection and ultraviolet spectroscopy (SEC-MALS-RI-UV) to characterize the reaction efficiency, degree of substitution, and valency of the products of conjugation of either peptides or proteins to a biopolymer scaffold, i.e., hyaluronic acid (HyA). Molecular characterization was more complete compared to estimates from a protein quantification assay, and exploitation of this method led to more accurate deduction of the molecular structures of polymer bioconjugates. Information obtained using this technique can improve macromolecular engineering design principles and better understand multivalent macromolecular interactions in biological systems.
doi:10.1021/bc3000595
PMCID: PMC3900495  PMID: 22794081
20.  Biophysical regulation of stem cell behavior within the niche 
Stem cells reside within most tissues throughout the lifetimes of mammalian organisms. To maintain their capacities for division and differentiation and thereby build, maintain, and regenerate organ structure and function, these cells require extensive and precise regulation, and a critical facet of this control is the local environment or niche surrounding the cell. It is well known that soluble biochemical signals play important roles within such niches, and a number of biophysical aspects of the microenvironment, including mechanical cues and spatiotemporally varying biochemical signals, have also been increasingly recognized to contribute to the repertoire of stimuli that regulate various stem cells in various tissues of both vertebrates and invertebrates. For example, biochemical factors immobilized to the extracellular matrix or the surface of neighboring cells can be spatially organized in their placement. Furthermore, the extracellular matrix provides mechanical support and regulatory information, such as its elastic modulus and interfacial topography, which modulate key aspects of stem cell behavior. Numerous examples of each of these modes of regulation indicate that biophysical aspects of the niche must be appreciated and studied in conjunction with its biochemical properties.
doi:10.1186/scrt141
PMCID: PMC3580480  PMID: 23241436
21.  AAV-Mediated, Optogenetic Ablation of Müller Glia Leads to Structural and Functional Changes in the Mouse Retina 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e76075.
Müller glia, the primary glial cell in the retina, provide structural and metabolic support for neurons and are essential for retinal integrity. Müller cells are closely involved in many retinal degenerative diseases, including macular telangiectasia type 2, in which impairment of central vision may be linked to a primary defect in Müller glia. Here, we used an engineered, Müller-specific variant of AAV, called ShH10, to deliver a photo-inducibly toxic protein, KillerRed, to Müller cells in the mouse retina. We characterized the results of specific ablation of these cells on visual function and retinal structure. ShH10-KillerRed expression was obtained following intravitreal injection and eyes were then irradiated with green light to induce toxicity. Induction of KillerRed led to loss of Müller cells and a concomitant decrease of Müller cell markers glutamine synthetase and cellular retinaldehyde-binding protein, reduction of rhodopsin and cone opsin, and upregulation of glial fibrillary acidic protein. Loss of Müller cells also resulted in retinal disorganization, including thinning of the outer nuclear layer and the photoreceptor inner and outer segments. High resolution imaging of thin sections revealed displacement of photoreceptors from the ONL, formation of rosette-like structures and the presence of phagocytic cells. Furthermore, Müller cell ablation resulted in increased area and volume of retinal blood vessels, as well as the formation of tortuous blood vessels and vascular leakage. Electrophysiologic measures demonstrated reduced retinal function, evident in decreased photopic and scotopic electroretinogram amplitudes. These results show that loss of Müller cells can cause progressive retinal degenerative disease, and suggest that AAV delivery of an inducibly toxic protein in Müller cells may be useful to create large animal models of retinal dystrophies.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076075
PMCID: PMC3785414  PMID: 24086689
22.  Soft microenvironments promote the early neurogenic differentiation but not self-renewal of human pluripotent stem cells 
Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) are of great interest in biology and medicine due to their ability to self-renew and differentiate into any adult or fetal cell type. Important efforts have identified biochemical factors, signaling pathways, and transcriptional networks that regulate hPSC biology. However, recent work investigating the effect of biophysical cues on mammalian cells and adult stem cells suggests that the mechanical properties of the microenvironment, such as stiffness, may also regulate hPSC behavior. While several studies have explored this mechanoregulation in mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs), it has been challenging to extrapolate these findings and thereby explore their biomedical implications in hPSCs. For example, it remains unclear whether hPSCs can be driven down a given tissue lineage by providing tissue-mimetic stiffness cues. Here we address this open question by investigating the regulation of hPSC neurogenesis by microenvironmental stiffness. We find that increasing extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffness in vitro increases hPSC cell and colony spread area but does not alter self-renewal, in contrast to past studies with mESCs. However, softer ECMs with stiffnesses similar to that of neural tissue promote the generation of early neural ectoderm. This mechanosensitive increase in neural ectoderm requires only a short 5-day soft stiffness “pulse,” which translates into downstream increases in both total neurons as well as therapeutically relevant dopaminergic neurons. These findings further highlight important differences between mESCs and hPSCs and have implications for both the design of future biomaterials as well as our understanding of early embryonic development.
doi:10.1039/c2ib20083j
PMCID: PMC3459311  PMID: 22854634
23.  Genetic Selection for Context-Dependent Stochastic Phenotypes: Sp1 and TATA Mutations Increase Phenotypic Noise in HIV-1 Gene Expression 
PLoS Computational Biology  2013;9(7):e1003135.
The sequence of a promoter within a genome does not uniquely determine gene expression levels and their variability; rather, promoter sequence can additionally interact with its location in the genome, or genomic context, to shape eukaryotic gene expression. Retroviruses, such as human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV), integrate their genomes into those of their host and thereby provide a biomedically-relevant model system to quantitatively explore the relationship between promoter sequence, genomic context, and noise-driven variability on viral gene expression. Using an in vitro model of the HIV Tat-mediated positive-feedback loop, we previously demonstrated that fluctuations in viral Tat-transactivating protein levels generate integration-site-dependent, stochastically-driven phenotypes, in which infected cells randomly ‘switch’ between high and low expressing states in a manner that may be related to viral latency. Here we extended this model and designed a forward genetic screen to systematically identify genetic elements in the HIV LTR promoter that modulate the fraction of genomic integrations that specify ‘Switching’ phenotypes. Our screen identified mutations in core promoter regions, including Sp1 and TATA transcription factor binding sites, which increased the Switching fraction several fold. By integrating single-cell experiments with computational modeling, we further investigated the mechanism of Switching-fraction enhancement for a selected Sp1 mutation. Our experimental observations demonstrated that the Sp1 mutation both impaired Tat-transactivated expression and also altered basal expression in the absence of Tat. Computational analysis demonstrated that the observed change in basal expression could contribute significantly to the observed increase in viral integrations that specify a Switching phenotype, provided that the selected mutation affected Tat-mediated noise amplification differentially across genomic contexts. Our study thus demonstrates a methodology to identify and characterize promoter elements that affect the distribution of stochastic phenotypes over genomic contexts, and advances our understanding of how promoter mutations may control the frequency of latent HIV infection.
Author Summary
The sequence of a gene within a cellular genome does not uniquely determine its expression level, even for a single type of cell under fixed conditions. Numerous other factors, including gene location on the chromosome and random gene-expression “noise,” can alter expression patterns and cause differences between otherwise identical cells. This poses new challenges for characterizing the genotype–phenotype relationship. Infection by the human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) provides a biomedically important example in which transcriptional noise and viral genomic location impact the decision between viral replication and latency, a quiescent but reversible state that cannot be eliminated by anti-viral therapies. Here, we designed a forward genetic screen to systematically identify mutations in the HIV promoter that alter the fraction of genomic integrations that specify noisy/reactivating expression phenotypes. The mechanisms by which the selected mutations specify the observed phenotypic enrichments are investigated through a combination of single-cell experiments and computational modeling. Our study provides a framework for identifying genetic sequences that alter the distribution of stochastic expression phenotypes over genomic locations and for characterizing their mechanisms of regulation. Our results also may yield further insights into the mechanisms by which HIV sequence evolution can alter the propensity for latent infections.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003135
PMCID: PMC3708878  PMID: 23874178
24.  Engineering Challenges for Instrumenting and Controlling Integrated Organ-on-Chip Systems 
The sophistication and success of recently reported microfabricated organs-on-chips and human organ constructs have made it possible to design scaled and interconnected organ systems that may significantly augment the current drug development pipeline and lead to advances in systems biology. Physiologically realistic live microHuman (µHu) and milliHuman (mHu) systems operating for weeks to months present exciting and important engineering challenges such as determining the appropriate size for each organ to ensure appropriate relative organ functional activity, achieving appropriate cell density, providing the requisite universal perfusion media, sensing the breadth of physiological responses, and maintaining stable control of the entire system, while maintaining fluid scaling that consists of ~5 mL for the mHu and ~5 µL for the µHu. We believe that successful mHu and µHu systems for drug development and systems biology will require low-volume microdevices that support chemical signaling, micro-fabricated pumps, valves and microformulators, automated optical microscopy, electrochemical sensors for rapid metabolic assessment, ion mobility-mass spectrometry for real-time molecular analysis, advanced bioinformatics, and machine learning algorithms for automated model inference and integrated electronic control. Toward this goal, we are building functional prototype components and are working toward top-down system integration.
doi:10.1109/TBME.2013.2244891
PMCID: PMC3696887  PMID: 23380852
Artificial biological organs; biological systems; biotechnology; systems biology
25.  Chromatin accessibility at the HIV LTR promoter sets a threshold for NF-κB mediated viral gene expression 
Integrative Biology  2012;4(6):661-671.
Higher order chromatin structure in eukaryotes can lead to differential gene expression in response to the same transcription factor; however, how transcription factor inputs integrate with quantitative features of the chromatin environment to regulate gene expression is not clear. In vitro models of HIV gene regulation, in which repressive mechanisms acting locally at an integration site keep proviruses transcriptionally silent until appropriately stimulated, provide a powerful system to study gene expression regulation in different chromatin environments. Here we quantified HIV expression as a function of activating transcription factor nuclear factor-κB RelA/p65 (RelA) levels and chromatin features at a panel of viral integration sites. Variable RelA overexpression demonstrated that the viral genomic location sets a threshold RelA level necessary to induce gene expression. However, once the induction threshold is reached, gene expression increases similarly for all integration sites. Furthermore, we found that higher induction thresholds are associated with repressive histone marks and a decreased sensitivity to nuclease digestion at the LTR promoter. Increasing chromatin accessibility via inhibition of histone deacetylation or DNA methylation lowered the induction threshold, demonstrating that chromatin accessibility sets the level of RelA required to activate gene expression. Finally, a functional relationship between gene expression, RelA level, and chromatin accessibility accurately predicted synergistic HIV activation in response to combinatorial pharmacological perturbations. Different genomic environments thus set a threshold for transcription factor activation of a key viral promoter, which may point toward biological principles that underlie selective gene expression and inform strategies for combinatorial therapies to combat latent HIV.
doi:10.1039/c2ib20009k
PMCID: PMC3362694  PMID: 22555315

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