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1.  Novel missense mutations in the glycine receptor β subunit gene (GLRB) in startle disease 
Neurobiology of Disease  2013;52(C):137-149.
Startle disease is a rare, potentially fatal neuromotor disorder characterized by exaggerated startle reflexes and hypertonia in response to sudden unexpected auditory, visual or tactile stimuli. Mutations in the GlyR α1 subunit gene (GLRA1) are the major cause of this disorder, since remarkably few individuals with mutations in the GlyR β subunit gene (GLRB) have been found to date. Systematic DNA sequencing of GLRB in individuals with hyperekplexia revealed new missense mutations in GLRB, resulting in M177R, L285R and W310C substitutions. The recessive mutation M177R results in the insertion of a positively-charged residue into a hydrophobic pocket in the extracellular domain, resulting in an increased EC50 and decreased maximal responses of α1β GlyRs. The de novo mutation L285R results in the insertion of a positively-charged side chain into the pore-lining 9′ position. Mutations at this site are known to destabilize the channel closed state and produce spontaneously active channels. Consistent with this, we identified a leak conductance associated with spontaneous GlyR activity in cells expressing α1βL285R GlyRs. Peak currents were also reduced for α1βL285R GlyRs although glycine sensitivity was normal. W310C was predicted to interfere with hydrophobic side-chain stacking between M1, M2 and M3. We found that W310C had no effect on glycine sensitivity, but reduced maximal currents in α1β GlyRs in both homozygous (α1βW310C) and heterozygous (α1ββW310C) stoichiometries. Since mild startle symptoms were reported in W310C carriers, this may represent an example of incomplete dominance in startle disease, providing a potential genetic explanation for the ‘minor’ form of hyperekplexia.
► We report novel missense mutations in the GlyR β subunit gene causing startle disease. ► Mutation M177R in the extracellular domain decreases GlyR agonist affinity. ► Mutation L285R in TM2 produces spontaneously active channels. ► Mutation W310C in TM3 affects hydrophobic stacking and shows incomplete dominance. ► Mutations in GLRB have unique pathogenic mechanisms and modes of inheritance.
PMCID: PMC3581774  PMID: 23238346
GLRA1; GLRB; Glycine receptor; Hyperekplexia; Startle disease
2.  Ghrelin inhibits LPS-induced release of IL-6 from mouse dopaminergic neurones 
Ghrelin is an orexigenic stomach hormone that acts centrally to increase mid-brain dopamine neurone activity, amplify dopamine signaling and protect against neurotoxin-induced dopamine cell death in the mouse substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc). In addition, ghrelin inhibits the lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced release of pro-inflammatory cytokines from peripheral macrophages, T-cells and from LPS stimulated microglia. Here we sought to determine whether ghrelin attenuates pro-inflammatory cytokine release from dopaminergic neurones.
The dopaminergic SN4741 cell-line, which derives from the mouse substantia nigra (SN) and expresses the ghrelin-receptor (growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHS-R)) and the ghrelin-O-acyl transferase (GOAT) enzyme, was used to determine the neuro-immunomodulatory action of ghrelin. We induced innate immune activation via LPS challenge (1 μg/ml) of SN4741 neurones that had been pre-cultured in the presence or absence of ghrelin (1, 10, 100 nM) for 4 h. After 24 h supernatants were collected for detection of IL-1 beta (IL-1β ), TNF alpha (TNF-α) and IL-6 cytokines via enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) analysis. Nuclear translocation of the transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) was analyzed by Western blotting, and to determine viability of treatments a cell viability assay and caspase-3 immunohistochemistry were performed.
We provide evidence that while IL-1β and TNF-α were not detectable under any conditions, SN4741 neurones constitutively released IL-6 under basal conditions and treatment with LPS significantly increased IL-6 secretion. Pre-treatment of neurones with ghrelin attenuated LPS-mediated IL-6 release at 24 h, an affect that was inhibited by the GHS-R antagonist [D-Lys3]-GHRP-6. However, while ghrelin pre-treatment attenuated the LPS-mediated increase in NF-κB, there was no alteration in its nuclear translocation. Cell viability assay and caspase-3 immunocytochemistry demonstrated that the results were independent from activation of cytotoxic and/or apoptotic mechanisms in the neuronal population, respectively.
Our results provide evidence that the gut-hormone, ghrelin, attenuates IL-6 secretion to LPS challenge in mid-brain dopaminergic neurones. These data suggest that ghrelin may protect against dopaminergic SN nerve cell damage or death via modulation of the innate immune response.
PMCID: PMC3614890  PMID: 23509933
Ghrelin; Interleukin-6; Dopamine; Neurones; Lipopolysaccharide; Parkinson’s disease
3.  PICK1 interacts with α7 neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and controls their clustering 
Central to synaptic function are protein scaffolds associated with neurotransmitter receptors. α7 neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) modulate network activity, neuronal survival and cognitive processes in the CNS, but protein scaffolds that interact with these receptors are unknown. Here we show that the PDZ-domain containing protein PICK1 binds to α7 nAChRs and plays a role in their clustering. PICK1 interacted with the α7 cytoplasmic loop in yeast in a PDZ-dependent way, and the interaction was confirmed in recombinant pull-down experiments and by co-precipitation of native proteins. Some α7 and PICK1 clusters were adjacent at the surface of SH-SY5Y cells and GABAergic interneurons in hippocampal cultures. Expression of PICK1 caused decreased α7 clustering on the surface of the interneurons in a PDZ-dependent way. These data show that PICK1 negatively regulates surface clustering of α7 nAChRs on hippocampal interneurons, which may be important in inhibitory functions of α7in the hippocampus.
PMCID: PMC3310904  PMID: 17467288
Nicotinic receptor; α7 nAChR; PICK1; Clustering; Hippocampus; GABAergic interneuron
4.  Mutations in the human GlyT2 gene define a presynaptic component of human startle disease 
Nature genetics  2006;38(7):801-806.
Hyperekplexia is a human neurological disorder characterized by an excessive startle response and is typically caused by missense and nonsense mutations in the gene encoding the inhibitory glycine receptor (GlyR) α1 subunit (GLRA1)1-3. Genetic heterogeneity has been confirmed in isolated sporadic cases with mutations in other postsynaptic glycinergic proteins including the GlyR β subunit (GLRB)4, gephyrin (GPHN)5 and RhoGEF collybistin (ARHGEF9)6. However, many sporadic patients diagnosed with hyperekplexia do not carry mutations in these genes2-7. Here we reveal that missense, nonsense and frameshift mutations in the presynaptic glycine transporter 2 (GlyT2) gene (SLC6A5)8 also cause hyperekplexia. Patients harbouring mutations in SLC6A5 presented with hypertonia, an exaggerated startle response to tactile or acoustic stimuli, and life-threatening neonatal apnoea episodes. GlyT2 mutations result in defective subcellular localisation and/or decreased glycine uptake, with selected mutations affecting predicted glycine and Na+ binding sites. Our results demonstrate that SLC6A5 is a major gene for hyperekplexia and define the first neurological disorder linked to mutations in a Na+/Cl−-dependent transporter for a classical fast neurotransmitter. By analogy, we suggest that in other human disorders where defects in postsynaptic receptors have been identified, similar symptoms could result from defects in the cognate presynaptic neurotransmitter transporter.
PMCID: PMC3204411  PMID: 16751771
5.  Startle disease in Irish wolfhounds associated with a microdeletion in the glycine transporter GlyT2 gene 
Neurobiology of Disease  2011;43(1):184-189.
Defects in glycinergic synaptic transmission in humans, cattle, and rodents result in an exaggerated startle reflex and hypertonia in response to either acoustic or tactile stimuli. Molecular genetic studies have determined that mutations in the genes encoding the postsynaptic glycine receptor (GlyR) α1 and β subunits (GLRA1 and GLRB) and the presynaptic glycine transporter GlyT2 (SLC6A5) are the major cause of these disorders. Here, we report the first genetically confirmed canine cases of startle disease. A litter of seven Irish wolfhounds was identified in which two puppies developed muscle stiffness and tremor in response to handling. Although sequencing of GLRA1 and GLRB did not reveal any pathogenic mutations, analysis of SLC6A5 revealed a homozygous 4.2 kb microdeletion encompassing exons 2 and 3 in both affected animals. This results in the loss of part of the large cytoplasmic N-terminus and all subsequent transmembrane domains due to a frameshift. This genetic lesion was confirmed by defining the deletion breakpoint, Southern blotting, and multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification (MLPA). This analysis enabled the development of a rapid genotyping test that revealed heterozygosity for the deletion in the dam and sire and three other siblings, confirming recessive inheritance. Wider testing of related animals has identified a total of 13 carriers of the SLC6A5 deletion as well as non-carrier animals. These findings will inform future breeding strategies and enable a rational pharmacotherapy of this new canine disorder.
Research Highlights
► Startle disease is caused by mutations in glycine receptor and transporter genes. ► We report the first genetically confirmed cases of canine startle disease. ► We found a novel microdeletion in SLC6A5 encoding the glycine transporter GlyT2. ► We can now offer diagnostic testing of carriers and potentially treat this disorder. ► Deletion detection techniques should be applied in human startle disease genetics.
PMCID: PMC4068303  PMID: 21420493
Glycine transporter; GlyT2; Hyperekplexia; Irish wolfhound; SLC6A5; Startle disease
6.  An ovine transgenic Huntington's disease model 
Human Molecular Genetics  2010;19(10):1873-1882.
Huntington's disease (HD) is an inherited autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expansion of a CAG trinucleotide repeat in the huntingtin (HTT) gene [Huntington's Disease Collaborative Research Group (1993) A novel gene containing a trinucleotide repeat that is expanded and unstable on Huntington's disease chromosomes. The Huntington's Disease Collaborative Research Group. Cell, 72, 971–983]. Despite identification of the gene in 1993, the underlying life-long disease process and effective treatments to prevent or delay it remain elusive. In an effort to fast-track treatment strategies for HD into clinical trials, we have developed a new large-animal HD transgenic ovine model. Sheep, Ovis aries L., were selected because the developmental pattern of the ovine basal ganglia and cortex (the regions primarily affected in HD) is similar to the analogous regions of the human brain. Microinjection of a full-length human HTT cDNA containing 73 polyglutamine repeats under the control of the human promotor resulted in six transgenic founders varying in copy number of the transgene. Analysis of offspring (at 1 and 7 months of age) from one of the founders showed robust expression of the full-length human HTT protein in both CNS and non-CNS tissue. Further, preliminary immunohistochemical analysis demonstrated the organization of the caudate nucleus and putamen and revealed decreased expression of medium size spiny neuron marker DARPP-32 at 7 months of age. It is anticipated that this novel transgenic animal will represent a practical model for drug/clinical trials and surgical interventions especially aimed at delaying or preventing HD initiation. New sequence accession number for ovine HTT mRNA: FJ457100.
PMCID: PMC2860888  PMID: 20154343
7.  TUBA1A mutations cause wide spectrum lissencephaly (smooth brain) and suggest that multiple neuronal migration pathways converge on alpha tubulins 
Human Molecular Genetics  2010;19(14):2817-2827.
We previously showed that mutations in LIS1 and DCX account for ∼85% of patients with the classic form of lissencephaly (LIS). Some rare forms of LIS are associated with a disproportionately small cerebellum, referred to as lissencephaly with cerebellar hypoplasia (LCH). Tubulin alpha1A (TUBA1A), encoding a critical structural subunit of microtubules, has recently been implicated in LIS. Here, we screen the largest cohort of unexplained LIS patients examined to date to determine: (i) the frequency of TUBA1A mutations in patients with lissencephaly, (ii) the spectrum of phenotypes associated with TUBA1A mutations and (iii) the functional consequences of different TUBA1A mutations on microtubule function. We identified novel and recurrent TUBA1A mutations in ∼1% of children with classic LIS and in ∼30% of children with LCH, making this the first major gene associated with the rare LCH phenotype. We also unexpectedly found a TUBA1A mutation in one child with agenesis of the corpus callosum and cerebellar hypoplasia without LIS. Thus, our data demonstrate a wider spectrum of phenotypes than previously reported and allow us to propose new recommendations for clinical testing. We also provide cellular and structural data suggesting that LIS-associated mutations of TUBA1A operate via diverse mechanisms that include disruption of binding sites for microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs).
PMCID: PMC2893812  PMID: 20466733
8.  The Glycinergic System in Human Startle Disease: A Genetic Screening Approach 
Human startle disease, also known as hyperekplexia (OMIM 149400), is a paroxysmal neurological disorder caused by defects in glycinergic neurotransmission. Hyperekplexia is characterised by an exaggerated startle reflex in response to tactile or acoustic stimuli which first presents as neonatal hypertonia, followed in some with episodes of life-threatening infantile apnoea. Genetic screening studies have demonstrated that hyperekplexia is genetically heterogeneous with several missense and nonsense mutations in the postsynaptic glycine receptor (GlyR) α1 subunit gene (GLRA1) as the primary cause. More recently, missense, nonsense and frameshift mutations have also been identified in the glycine transporter GlyT2 gene, SLC6A5, demonstrating a presynaptic component to this disease. Further mutations, albeit rare, have been identified in the genes encoding the GlyR β subunit (GLRB), collybistin (ARHGEF9) and gephyrin (GPHN) – all of which are postsynaptic proteins involved in orchestrating glycinergic neurotransmission. In this review, we describe the clinical ascertainment aspects, phenotypic considerations and the downstream molecular genetic tools utilised to analyse both presynaptic and postsynaptic components of this heterogeneous human neurological disorder. Moreover, we will describe how the ancient startle response is the preserve of glycinergic neurotransmission and how animal models and human hyperekplexia patients have provided synergistic evidence that implicates this inhibitory system in the control of startle reflexes.
PMCID: PMC2854534  PMID: 20407582
glycine; hyperekplexia; receptor; transporter; mutation
9.  Localization of Glycine Receptors in the Human Forebrain, Brainstem, and Cervical Spinal Cord: An Immunohistochemical Review 
Inhibitory neurotransmitter receptors for glycine (GlyR) are heteropentameric chloride ion channels that are comprised of four functional subunits, alpha1–3 and beta and that facilitate fast-response, inhibitory neurotransmission in the mammalian brain and spinal cord. We have investigated the distribution of GlyRs in the human forebrain, brainstem, and cervical spinal cord using immunohistochemistry at light and confocal laser scanning microscopy levels. This review will summarize the present knowledge on the GlyR distribution in the human brain using our established immunohistochemical techniques. The results of our immunohistochemical labeling studies demonstrated GlyR immunoreactivity (IR) throughout the human basal ganglia, substantia nigra, various pontine regions, rostral medulla oblongata and the cervical spinal cord present an intense and abundant punctate IR along the membranes of the neuronal soma and dendrites. This work is part of a systematic study of inhibitory neurotransmitter receptor distribution in the human CNS, and provides a basis for additional detailed physiological and pharmacological studies on the inter-relationship of GlyR, GABAAR and gephyrin in the human brain. This basic mapping exercise, we believe, will provide important baselines for the testing of future pharmacotherapies and drug regimes that modulate neuroinhibitory systems. These findings provide new information for understanding the complexity of glycinergic functions in the human brain, which will translate into the contribution of inhibitory mechanisms in paroxysmal disorders and neurodegenerative diseases such as Epilepsy, Huntington's and Parkinson's Disease and Motor Neuron Disease.
PMCID: PMC2776491  PMID: 19915682
human brain; glycine receptor; immunohistochemistry
10.  A Critical Role for Glycine Transporters in Hyperexcitability Disorders 
Defects in mammalian glycinergic neurotransmission result in a complex motor disorder characterized by neonatal hypertonia and an exaggerated startle reflex, known as hyperekplexia (OMIM 149400). This affects newborn children and is characterized by noise or touch-induced seizures that result in muscle stiffness and breath-holding episodes. Although rare, this disorder can have serious consequences, including brain damage and/or sudden infant death. The primary cause of hyperekplexia is missense and non-sense mutations in the glycine receptor (GlyR) α1 subunit gene (GLRA1) on chromosome 5q33.1, although we have also discovered rare mutations in the genes encoding the GlyR β subunit (GLRB) and the GlyR clustering proteins gephyrin (GPNH) and collybistin (ARHGEF9). Recent studies of the Na+/Cl−-dependent glycine transporters GlyT1 and GlyT2 using mouse knockout models and human genetics have revealed that mutations in GlyT2 are a second major cause of hyperekplexia, while the phenotype of the GlyT1 knockout mouse resembles a devastating neurological disorder known as glycine encephalopathy (OMIM 605899). These findings highlight the importance of these transporters in regulating the levels of synaptic glycine.
PMCID: PMC2526004  PMID: 18946534
glycine transporters; GlyT1; GlyT2; VIAAT; hyperekplexia; startle disease; glycine encephalopathy
11.  Biophysical Properties of 9 KCNQ1 Mutations Associated with Long QT Syndrome (LQTS) 
Inherited long QT syndrome (LQTS) is characterized by prolonged QT interval on the EKG, syncope and sudden death due to ventricular arrhythmia. Causative mutations occur mostly in cardiac potassium and sodium channel subunit genes. Confidence in mutation pathogenicity is usually reached through family genotype-phenotype tracking, control population studies, molecular modelling and phylogenetic alignments, however, biophysical testing offers a higher degree of validating evidence.
Methods and Results
By using in-vitro electrophysiological testing of transfected mutant and wild-type LQTS constructs into Chinese Hamster Ovary cells, we investigated the biophysical properties of 9 KCNQ1 missense mutations (A46T, T265I, F269S, A302V, G316E, F339S, R360G, H455Y, and S546L) identified in a New Zealand based LQTS screening programme. We demonstrate through electrophysiology and molecular modeling that seven of the missense mutations have profound pathological dominant negative loss-of-function properties confirming their likely disease-causing nature. This supports the use of these mutations in diagnostic family screening. Two mutations (A46T, T265I) show suggestive evidence of pathogenicity within the experimental limits of biophysical testing, indicating that these variants are disease-causing via delayed or fast activation kinetics. Further investigation of the A46T family has revealed an inconsistent co-segregation of the variant with the clinical phenotype.
Electrophysiological characterisation should be used to validate LQTS pathogenicity of novel missense channelopathies. When such results are inconclusive, great care should be taken with genetic counselling and screening of such families, and alternative disease causing mechanisms should be considered.
PMCID: PMC2748886  PMID: 19808498
Long QT; Mutations; Arrhythmia; Ion Channels; Sudden Cardiac Death

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