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1.  LPS-induced TNF-α factor mediates pro-inflammatory and pro-fibrogenic pattern in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease 
Oncotarget  2015;6(39):41434-41452.
Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is currently considered one of the major players in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) pathogenesis and progression. Here, we aim to investigate the possible role of LPS-induced TNF-α factor (LITAF) in inducing a pro-inflammatory and pro-fibrogenic phenotype of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
We found that children with NAFLD displayed, in different liver-resident cells, an increased expression of LITAF which correlated with histological traits of hepatic inflammation and fibrosis. Total and nuclear LITAF expression increased in mouse and human hepatic stellate cells (HSCs). Moreover, LPS induced LITAF-dependent transcription of IL-1β, IL-6 and TNF-α in the clonal myofibroblastic HSC LX-2 cell line, and this effect was hampered by LITAF silencing. We showed, for the first time in HSCs, that LITAF recruitment to these cytokine promoters is LPS dependent. However, preventing LITAF nuclear translocation by p38MAPK inhibitor, the expression of IL-6 and TNF-α was significantly reduced with the aid of p65NF-ĸB, while IL-1β transcription exclusively required LITAF expression/activity. Finally, IL-1β levels in plasma mirrored those in the liver and correlated with LPS levels and LITAF-positive HSCs in children with NASH.
In conclusion, a more severe histological profile in paediatric NAFLD is associated with LITAF over-expression in HSCs, which in turn correlates with hepatic and circulating IL-1β levels outlining a panel of potential biomarkers of NASH-related liver damage. The in vitro study highlights the role of LITAF as a key regulator of the LPS-induced pro-inflammatory pattern in HSCs and suggests p38MAPK inhibitors as a possible therapeutic approach against hepatic inflammation in NASH.
PMCID: PMC4747165  PMID: 26573228
Pathology Section; fibrosis; LITAF; LPS; inflammation; NAFLD
2.  Characterizing PCDH19 in human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and iPSC-derived developing neurons: emerging role of a protein involved in controlling polarity during neurogenesis 
Oncotarget  2015;6(29):26804-26813.
PCDH19 (Protocadherin 19), a member of the cadherin superfamily, is involved in the pathogenic mechanism of an X-linked model of neurological disease. The biological function of PCHD19 in human neurons and during neurogenesis is currently unknown. Therefore, we decided to use the model of the induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to characterize the location and timing of expression of PCDH19 during cortical neuronal differentiation. Our data show that PCDH19 is expressed in pluripotent cells before differentiation in a homogeneous pattern, despite its localization is often limited to one pole of the cell. During neuronal differentiation, positional information on the progenitor cells assumes an important role in acquiring polarization. The proper control of the cell orientation ensures a fine balancing between symmetric (giving rise to two progenitor sister cells) versus asymmetric (giving rise to one progenitor cell and one newborn neuron) division. This process results in the polar organization of the neural tube with a lumen indicating the basal part of the polarized neuronal progenitor cell; in the iPSC model the cells are organized in the ‘neural rosette’ and interestingly, PCDH19 is located at the center of the rosette, with other well-known markers of the lumen (N-cadherin and ZO-1). These data suggest that PCDH19 has a role in instructing the apico-basal polarity of the progenitor cells, thus regulating the development of a properly organized human brain.
PMCID: PMC4694954  PMID: 26450854
PCDH19; human iPSCs; iPSC-derived neurons; neuronal polarity; neural rosettes; Neruoscience Section
3.  Aged iPSCs display an uncommon mitochondrial appearance and fail to undergo in vitro neurogenesis 
Aging (Albany NY)  2014;6(12):1094-1108.
Reprogramming of human fibroblasts into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) leads to mitochondrial rejuvenation, making iPSCs a candidate model to study the mitochondrial biology during stemness and differentiation. At present, it is generally accepted that iPSCs can be maintained and propagated indefinitely in culture, but no specific studies have addressed this issue. In our study, we investigated features related to the 'biological age' of iPSCs, culturing and analyzing iPSCs kept for prolonged periods in vitro. We have demonstrated that aged iPSCs present an increased number of mitochondria per cell with an altered mitochondrial membrane potential and fail to properly undergo in vitro neurogenesis. In aged iPSCs we have also found an altered expression of genes relevant to mitochondria biogenesis. Overall, our results shed light on the mitochondrial biology of young and aged iPSCs and explore how an altered mitochondrial status may influence neuronal differentiation. Our work suggests to deepen the understanding of the iPSCs biology before considering their use in clinical applications.
PMCID: PMC4298368  PMID: 25567319
induced pluripotent stem cells; mitochondria; stem cell aging; mitochondrial dysfunction; in vitro neurogenesis
4.  Megalencephalic leukoencephalopathy with subcortical cysts protein-1 modulates endosomal pH and protein trafficking in astrocytes: Relevance to MLC disease pathogenesis 
Neurobiology of Disease  2014;66(100):1-18.
Megalencephalic leukoencephalopathy with subcortical cysts (MLC) is a rare leukodystrophy caused by mutations in the gene encoding MLC1, a membrane protein mainly expressed in astrocytes in the central nervous system. Although MLC1 function is unknown, evidence is emerging that it may regulate ion fluxes. Using biochemical and proteomic approaches to identify MLC1 interactors and elucidate MLC1 function we found that MLC1 interacts with the vacuolar ATPase (V-ATPase), the proton pump that regulates endosomal acidity. Because we previously showed that in intracellular organelles MLC1 directly binds Na, K-ATPase, which controls endosomal pH, we studied MLC1 endosomal localization and trafficking and MLC1 effects on endosomal acidity and function using human astrocytoma cells overexpressing wild-type (WT) MLC1 or MLC1 carrying pathological mutations. We found that WT MLC1 is abundantly expressed in early (EEA1+, Rab5+) and recycling (Rab11+) endosomes and uses the latter compartment to traffic to the plasma membrane during hyposmotic stress. We also showed that WT MLC1 limits early endosomal acidification and influences protein trafficking in astrocytoma cells by stimulating protein recycling, as revealed by FITC-dextran measurement of endosomal pH and transferrin protein recycling assay, respectively. WT MLC1 also favors recycling to the plasma-membrane of the TRPV4 cation channel which cooperates with MLC1 to activate calcium influx in astrocytes during hyposmotic stress. Although MLC disease-causing mutations differentially affect MLC1 localization and trafficking, all the mutated proteins fail to influence endosomal pH and protein recycling. This study demonstrates that MLC1 modulates endosomal pH and protein trafficking suggesting that alteration of these processes contributes to MLC pathogenesis.
•We studied MLC1 intracellular expression and trafficking in astrocytes.•MLC1 traffics along early/late endosomes and is subjected to Rab11-mediated recycling.•MLC1 interacts with the V-ATPase and modulates early endosome organelle acidity.•MLC1 accelerates the recycling of transferrin and TRPV4 calcium channel.•Pathological mutations impair MLC1 regulation of organelle acidity and protein recycling.
PMCID: PMC4003525  PMID: 24561067
Leukodystrophy; Early/recycling endosomes; TRPV4; V-ATPase; Na; K-ATPase; Hyposmosis; Calcium; Rab11
5.  A possible role of transglutaminase 2 in the nucleus of INS-1E and of cells of human pancreatic islets 
Journal of Proteomics  2014;96(100):314-327.
Transglutaminase 2 (TG2) is a multifunctional protein with Ca2 +-dependent transamidating and G protein activity. Previously we reported that the role of TG2 in insulin secretion may involve cytoplasmic actin remodeling and a regulative action on other proteins during granule movement. The aim of this study was to gain a better insight into the role of TG2 transamidating activity in mitochondria and in the nucleus of INS-1E rat insulinoma cell line (INS-1E) during insulin secretion. To this end we labeled INS-1E with an artificial donor (biotinylated peptide), in basal condition and after stimulus with glucose for 2, 5, and 8 min. Biotinylated proteins of the nuclear/mitochondrial-enriched fraction were analyzed using two-dimensional electrophoresis and mass spectrometry. Many mitochondrial proteins involved in Ca2 + homeostasis (e.g. voltage-dependent anion-selective channel protein, prohibitin and different ATP synthase subunits) and many nuclear proteins involved in gene regulation (e.g. histone H3, barrier to autointegration factor and various heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein) were identified among a number of transamidating substrates of TG2 in INS-1E. The combined results provide evidence that a temporal link exists between glucose-stimulation, first phase insulin secretion and the action of TG on histone H3 both in INS-1E and human pancreatic islets.
Biological significance
Research into the role of transglutaminase 2 during insulin secretion in INS-1E rat insulinoma cellular model is depicting a complex role for this enzyme. Transglutaminase 2 acts in the different INS-1E compartments in the same way: catalyzing a post-translational modification event of its substrates. In this work we identify some mitochondrial and nuclear substrates of INS-1E during first phase insulin secretion. The finding that TG2 interacts with nuclear proteins that include BAF and histone H3 immediately after (2–5 min) glucose stimulus of INS-1E suggests that TG2 may be involved not only in insulin secretion, as suggested by our previous studies in cytoplasmic INS-1E fraction, but also in the regulation of glucose-induced gene transcription.
Graphical abstract
•Transglutaminase 2 localizes in the nucleus and in the mitochondrion of INS-1E.•TG2 acts as a modifying enzyme in both compartments during FPIS.•TG2 may contribute to Ca2 + sensing in mitochondrion through its substrates.•TG2 may contribute to chromatin condensation in nucleus through its substrates.
PMCID: PMC3919173  PMID: 24291354
FPIS, first phase insulin secretion; TG2, transglutaminase 2.; Transglutaminase 2; Insulin secretion; Calcium concentration; β-Cell; INS-1E; Human islet
6.  Association between Serum Atypical Fibroblast Growth Factors 21 and 19 and Pediatric Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67160.
Atypical fibroblast growth factors (FGF) 21 and 19 play a central role in energy metabolism through the mediation of Klotho coreceptor. Contradictory findings are available about the association of FGF21 and FGF19 with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in humans. We investigated the association of serum FGF21, FGF19 and liver Klotho coreceptor with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and fibrosis in children with NAFLD. Serum FGF21 and FGF19 were measured in 84 children with biopsy-proven NAFLD and 23 controls (CTRL). The hepatic expression of Klotho coreceptor was measured in 7 CTRL, 9 patients with NASH (NASH+) and 11 patients without NASH (NASH−). FGF21 and FGF19 showed a tendency to decrease from CTRL (median FGF21 = 196 pg/mL; median FGF19 = 201 pg/mL) to NASH− (FGF21 = 89 pg/mL; FGF19 = 81 pg/mL) to NASH+ patients (FGF21 = 54 pg/mL; FGF19 = 41 pg/mL) (p<0.001 for all comparisons) and were inversely associated with the probability of NASH and fibrosis in children with NAFLD. The hepatic expression of Klotho coreceptor was inversely associated with NASH (R2 = 0.87, p<0.0001) and directly associated with serum FGF21 (R2 = 0.57, p<0.0001) and FGF19 (R2 = 0.67, p<0.0001). In conclusion, serum FGF19 and FGF21 and hepatic Klotho expression are inversely associated with hepatic damage in children with NAFLD and these findings may have important implications for understanding the mechanisms of NAFLD progression.
PMCID: PMC3694051  PMID: 23840612
7.  Characterization of a rare case of Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy due to truncating mutations within the COL6A1 gene C-Terminal domain: a case report 
BMC Medical Genetics  2013;14:59.
Mutations within the C-terminal region of the COL6A1 gene are only detected in Ullrich/Bethlem patients on extremely rare occasions.
Case presentation
Herein we report two Brazilian brothers with a classic Ullrich phenotype and compound heterozygous for two truncating mutations in COL6A1 gene, expected to result in the loss of the α1(VI) chain C2 subdomain. Despite the reduction in COL6A1 RNA level due to nonsense RNA decay, three truncated alpha1 (VI) chains were produced as protein variants encoded by different out-of-frame transcripts. Collagen VI matrix was severely decreased and intracellular protein retention evident.
The altered deposition of the fibronectin network highlighted abnormal interactions of the mutated collagen VI, lacking the α1(VI) C2 domain, within the extracellular matrix, focusing further studies on the possible role played by collagen VI in fibronectin deposition and organization.
PMCID: PMC3681647  PMID: 23738969
Ullrich congenital dystrophy; Collagen VI; C-terminal truncating mutations
8.  Frataxin Deficiency Leads to Reduced Expression and Impaired Translocation of NF-E2-Related Factor (Nrf2) in Cultured Motor Neurons 
Oxidative stress has been implicated in the pathogenesis of Friedreich’s Ataxia (FRDA), a neurodegenerative disease caused by the decreased expression of frataxin, a mitochondrial protein responsible of iron homeostasis. Under conditions of oxidative stress, the activation of the transcription factor NF-E2-related factor (Nrf2) triggers the antioxidant cellular response by inducing antioxidant response element (ARE) driven genes. Increasing evidence supports a role for the Nrf2-ARE pathway in neurodegenerative diseases. In this study, we analyzed the expression and the distribution of Nrf2 in silenced neurons for frataxin gene. Decreased Nrf2 mRNA content and a defective activation after treatment with pro-oxidants have been evidenced in frataxin-silenced neurons by RT-PCR and confocal microscopy. The loss of Nrf2 in FRDA may greatly enhance the cellular susceptibility to oxidative stress and make FRDA neurons more vulnerable to injury. Our findings may help to focus on this promising target, especially in its emerging role in the neuroprotective response.
PMCID: PMC3645720  PMID: 23574943
FRDA; frataxin; Nrf2; GSSG; oxidative stress; NSC34 neurons
9.  Focal Adhesion Kinase (FAK) Mediates the Induction of Pro-Oncogenic and Fibrogenic Phenotypes in Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)-Infected Cells 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e44147.
Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infection is one of the most common etiological factors involved in fibrosis development and its progression to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The pivotal role of hepatic stellate cells (HCSs) and extracellular matrix (ECM) in fibrogenesis is now certainly accepted, while the network of molecular interactions connecting HCV is emerging as a master regulator of several biological processes including proliferation, inflammation, cytoskeleton and ECM remodeling. In this study, the effects of HCV proteins expression on liver cancer cells, both pro-invasive and pro-fibrogenic phenotypes were explored. As a model of HCV infection, we used permissive Huh7.5.1 hepatoma cells infected with JFH1-derived ccHCV. Conditioned medium from these cells was used to stimulate LX-2 cells, a line of HSCs. We found that the HCV infection of Huh7.5.1 cells decreased adhesion, increased migration and caused the delocalization of alpha-actinin from plasma membrane to cytoplasm and increased expression levels of paxillin. The treatment of LX-2 cells, with conditioned medium from HCV-infected Huh7.5.1 cells, caused an increase in cell proliferation, expression of alpha-smooth muscle actin, hyaluronic acid release and apoptosis rate measured as cleaved poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP). These effects were accompanied in Huh7.5.1 cells by an HCV-dependent increasing of FAK activation that physically interacts with phosphorylated paxillin and alpha-actinin, and a rising of tumor necrosis factor alpha production/release. Silencing of FAK by siRNA reverted all effects of HCV infection, both those directed on Huh7.5.1 cells, and those indirect effects on the LX-2 cells. Moreover and interestingly, FAK inhibition enhances apoptosis in HCV-conditioned LX-2 cells. In conclusion, our findings demonstrate that HCV, through FAK activation, may promote cytoskeletal reorganization and a pro-oncogenic phenotype in hepatocyte-like cells, and a fibrogenic phenotype in HSCs.
PMCID: PMC3429423  PMID: 22937161
10.  The empowerment of translational research: lessons from laminopathies 
The need for a collaborative approach to complex inherited diseases collectively referred to as laminopathies, encouraged Italian researchers, geneticists, physicians and patients to join in the Italian Network for Laminopathies, in 2009. Here, we highlight the advantages and added value of such a multidisciplinary effort to understand pathogenesis, clinical aspects and try to find a cure for Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, Mandibuloacral dysplasia, Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria and forms of lamin-linked cardiomyopathy, neuropathy and lipodystrophy.
PMCID: PMC3458975  PMID: 22691392
Laminopathies; Emery-Dreifuss Muscular Dystrophy; Dilated Cardiomyopathy with Conduction Defects; Mandibuloacral Dysplasia; Familial Partial Lipodystrophy Type 2; Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome; Rare Diseases; Networking activity; interdisciplinary approach to diseases
11.  Congenital Muscular Dystrophies: A Brief Review 
Seminars in Pediatric Neurology  2011;18(4):277-288.
Congenital muscular dystrophies (CMDs) are clinically and genetically heterogeneous neuromuscular disorders with onset at birth or in infancy in which the muscle biopsy is compatible with a dystrophic myopathy. In the past 10 years, knowledge of neuromuscular disorders has dramatically increased, particularly with the exponential boost of disclosing the genetic background of CMDs. This review will highlight the clinical description of the most important forms of CMD, paying particular attention to the main keys for diagnostic approach. The diagnosis of CMDs requires the concurrence of expertise in multiple specialties (neurology, morphology, genetics, neuroradiology) available in a few centers worldwide that have achieved sufficient experience with the different CMD subtypes. Currently, molecular diagnosis is of paramount importance not only for phenotype-genotype correlations, genetic and prenatal counseling, and prognosis and aspects of management, but also concerning the imminent availability of clinical trials and treatments.
PMCID: PMC3332154  PMID: 22172424
13.  Altered surfactant homeostasis and recurrent respiratory failure secondary to TTF-1 nuclear targeting defect 
Respiratory Research  2011;12(1):115.
Mutations of genes affecting surfactant homeostasis, such as SFTPB, SFTPC and ABCA3, lead to diffuse lung disease in neonates and children. Haploinsufficiency of NKX2.1, the gene encoding the thyroid transcription factor-1 (TTF-1) - critical for lung, thyroid and central nervous system morphogenesis and function - causes a rare form of progressive respiratory failure designated brain-lung-thyroid syndrome. Molecular mechanisms involved in this syndrome are heterogeneous and poorly explored. We report a novel TTF-1 molecular defect causing recurrent respiratory failure episodes in an infant.
The subject was an infant with severe neonatal respiratory distress syndrome followed by recurrent respiratory failure episodes, hypopituitarism and neurological abnormalities. Lung histology and ultrastructure were assessed by surgical biopsy. Surfactant-related genes were studied by direct genomic DNA sequencing and array chromatine genomic hybridization (aCGH). Surfactant protein expression in lung tissue was analyzed by confocal immunofluorescence microscopy. For kinetics studies, surfactant protein B and disaturated phosphatidylcholine (DSPC) were isolated from serial tracheal aspirates after intravenous administration of stable isotope-labeled 2H2O and 13C-leucine; fractional synthetic rate was derived from gas chromatography/mass spectrometry 2H and 13C enrichment curves. Six intubated infants with no primary lung disease were used as controls.
Lung biopsy showed desquamative interstitial pneumonitis and lamellar body abnormalities suggestive of genetic surfactant deficiency. Genetic studies identified a heterozygous ABCA3 mutation, L941P, previously unreported. No SFTPB, SFTPC or NKX2.1 mutations or deletions were found. However, immunofluorescence studies showed TTF-1 prevalently expressed in type II cell cytoplasm instead of nucleus, indicating defective nuclear targeting. This pattern has not been reported in human and was not found in two healthy controls and in five ABCA3 mutation carriers. Kinetic studies demonstrated a marked reduction of SP-B synthesis (43.2 vs. 76.5 ± 24.8%/day); conversely, DSPC synthesis was higher (12.4 vs. 6.3 ± 0.5%/day) compared to controls, although there was a marked reduction of DSPC content in tracheal aspirates (29.8 vs. 56.1 ± 12.4% of total phospholipid content).
Defective TTF-1 signaling may result in profound surfactant homeostasis disruption and neonatal/pediatric diffuse lung disease. Heterozygous ABCA3 missense mutations may act as disease modifiers in other genetic surfactant defects.
PMCID: PMC3179724  PMID: 21867529
thyroid transcription factor 1; ATP binding cassette transporters; lung diseases, interstitial; pulmonary surfactants; pituitary insufficiency; pulmonary surfactant-associated protein B; lung-brain-thyroid syndrome

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