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1.  Gain of Function Notch Phenotypes Associated with Ectopic Expression of the Su(H) C-Terminal Domain Illustrate Separability of Notch and Hairless-Mediated Activities 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e81578.
The Notch signaling pathway is instrumental for cell fate decisions. Signals from the Notch receptor are transduced by CSL-type DNA-binding proteins. In Drosophila, this protein is named Suppressor of Hairless [Su(H)]. Together with the intracellular domain of the activated Notch receptor ICN, Su(H) assembles a transcriptional activator complex on Notch target genes. Hairless acts as the major antagonist of the Notch signaling pathway in Drosophila by means of the formation of a repressor complex together with Su(H) and several co-repressors. Su(H) is characterized by three domains, the N-terminal domain NTD, the beta-trefoil domain BTD and the C-terminal domain CTD. NTD and BTD bind to the DNA, whereas BTD and CTD bind to ICN. Hairless binds to the CTD, however, to sites different from ICN. In this work, we have addressed the question of competition and availability of Su(H) for ICN and Hairless binding in vivo. To this end, we overexpressed the CTD during fly development. We observed a strong activation of Notch signaling processes in various tissues, which may be explained by an interference of CTD with Hairless corepressor activity. Accordingly, a combined overexpression of CTD together with Hairless ameliorated the effects, unlike Su(H) which strongly enhances repression when overexpressed concomitantly with Hairless. Interestingly, in the combined overexpression CTD accumulated in the nucleus together with Hairless, whereas it is predominantly cytoplasmic on its own.
PMCID: PMC3839874  PMID: 24282610
2.  Molecular Analysis of the Notch Repressor-Complex in Drosophila: Characterization of Potential Hairless Binding Sites on Suppressor of Hairless 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e27986.
The Notch signalling pathway mediates cell-cell communication in a wide variety of organisms. The major components, as well as the basic mechanisms of Notch signal transduction, are remarkably well conserved amongst vertebrates and invertebrates. Notch signalling results in transcriptional activation of Notch target genes, which is mediated by an activator complex composed of the DNA binding protein CSL, the intracellular domain of the Notch receptor, and the transcriptional coactivator Mastermind. In the absence of active signalling, CSL represses transcription from Notch target genes by the recruitment of corepressors. The Notch activator complex is extremely well conserved and has been studied in great detail. However, Notch repressor complexes are far less understood. In Drosophila melanogaster, the CSL protein is termed Suppressor of Hairless [Su(H)]. Su(H) functions as a transcriptional repressor by binding Hairless, the major antagonist of Notch signalling in Drosophila, which in turn recruits two general corepressors – Groucho and C-terminal binding protein CtBP. Recently, we determined that the C-terminal domain (CTD) of Su(H) binds Hairless and identified a single site in Hairless, which is essential for contacting Su(H). Here we present additional biochemical and in vivo studies aimed at mapping the residues in Su(H) that contact Hairless. Focusing on surface exposed residues in the CTD, we identified two sites that affect Hairless binding in biochemical assays. Mutation of these sites neither affects binding to DNA nor to Notch. Subsequently, these Su(H) mutants were found to function normally in cellular and in vivo assays using transgenic flies. However, these experiments rely on Su(H) overexpression, which does not allow for detection of quantitative or subtle differences in activity. We discuss the implications of our results.
PMCID: PMC3220720  PMID: 22125648
3.  Structural and functional analysis of the repressor complex in the Notch signaling pathway of Drosophila melanogaster 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2011;22(17):3242-3252.
Despite high conservation of the Notch pathway, its repression appears diverse between organisms. In Drosophila, a high-affinity complex forms between the CSL orthologue Su(H) and Hairless, which is analyzed in great detail in vitro and in vivo. Drosophila Hairless is shown to bind CBF1 and inhibit Notch transcriptional output in mammalian cells.
In metazoans, the highly conserved Notch pathway drives cellular specification. On receptor activation, the intracellular domain of Notch assembles a transcriptional activator complex that includes the DNA-binding protein CSL, a composite of human C-promoter binding factor 1, Suppressor of Hairless of Drosophila melanogaster [Su(H)], and lin-12 and Glp-1 phenotype of Caenorhabditis elegans. In the absence of ligand, CSL represses Notch target genes. However, despite the structural similarity of CSL orthologues, repression appears largely diverse between organisms. Here we analyze the Notch repressor complex in Drosophila, consisting of the fly CSL protein, Su(H), and the corepressor Hairless, which recruits general repressor proteins. We show that the C-terminal domain of Su(H) is necessary and sufficient for forming a high-affinity complex with Hairless. Mutations in Su(H) that affect interactions with Notch and Mastermind have no effect on Hairless binding. Nonetheless, we demonstrate that Notch and Hairless compete for CSL in vitro and in cell culture. In addition, we identify a site in Hairless that is crucial for binding Su(H) and subsequently show that this Hairless mutant is strongly impaired, failing to properly assemble the repressor complex in vivo. Finally, we demonstrate Hairless-mediated inhibition of Notch signaling in a cell culture assay, which hints at a potentially similar repression mechanism in mammals that might be exploited for therapeutic purposes.
PMCID: PMC3164469  PMID: 21737682
4.  Knowledge management for systems biology a general and visually driven framework applied to translational medicine 
BMC Systems Biology  2011;5:38.
To enhance our understanding of complex biological systems like diseases we need to put all of the available data into context and use this to detect relations, pattern and rules which allow predictive hypotheses to be defined. Life science has become a data rich science with information about the behaviour of millions of entities like genes, chemical compounds, diseases, cell types and organs, which are organised in many different databases and/or spread throughout the literature. Existing knowledge such as genotype - phenotype relations or signal transduction pathways must be semantically integrated and dynamically organised into structured networks that are connected with clinical and experimental data. Different approaches to this challenge exist but so far none has proven entirely satisfactory.
To address this challenge we previously developed a generic knowledge management framework, BioXM™, which allows the dynamic, graphic generation of domain specific knowledge representation models based on specific objects and their relations supporting annotations and ontologies. Here we demonstrate the utility of BioXM for knowledge management in systems biology as part of the EU FP6 BioBridge project on translational approaches to chronic diseases. From clinical and experimental data, text-mining results and public databases we generate a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) knowledge base and demonstrate its use by mining specific molecular networks together with integrated clinical and experimental data.
We generate the first semantically integrated COPD specific public knowledge base and find that for the integration of clinical and experimental data with pre-existing knowledge the configuration based set-up enabled by BioXM reduced implementation time and effort for the knowledge base compared to similar systems implemented as classical software development projects. The knowledgebase enables the retrieval of sub-networks including protein-protein interaction, pathway, gene - disease and gene - compound data which are used for subsequent data analysis, modelling and simulation. Pre-structured queries and reports enhance usability; establishing their use in everyday clinical settings requires further simplification with a browser based interface which is currently under development.
PMCID: PMC3060864  PMID: 21375767
5.  The tiny Hairless protein from Apis mellifera: a potent antagonist of Notch signaling in Drosophila melanogaster 
The Notch signaling pathway is fundamental to the regulation of many cell fate decisions in eumetazoans. Not surprisingly, members of this pathway are highly conserved even between vertebrates and invertebrates. There is one notable exception, Hairless, which acts as a general Notch antagonist in Drosophila. Hairless silences Notch target genes by assembling a repressor complex together with Suppressor of Hairless [Su(H)] and the co-repressors Groucho (Gro) and C-terminal binding protein (CtBP). Now with the availability of genomic databases, presumptive Hairless homologues are predicted, however only in insect species. To further our understanding of Hairless structure and function, we have cloned the Hairless gene from Apis mellifera (A.m.H) and characterized its functional conservation in Drosophila.
The Apis Hairless protein is only one third of the size of the Drosophila orthologue. Interestingly, the defined Suppressor of Hairless binding domain is interrupted by a nonconserved spacer sequence and the N-terminal motif is sufficient for binding. In contrast to Apis Hairless, the Drosophila orthologue contains a large acidic domain and we provide experimental evidence that this acidic domain is necessary to silence Hairless activity in vivo. Despite the dramatic size differences, Apis Hairless binds to the Drosophila Hairless interactors Su(H), Gro, CtBP and Pros26.4. Hence, Apis Hairless assembles a repressor complex with Drosophila components that may have a different topology. Nevertheless, Apis Hairless is sufficient to repress the Notch target gene vestigial in Drosophila. Moreover, it is able to rescue Hairless mutant phenotypes, providing in vivo evidence for its function as a bona fide Notch antagonist.
This is the first interspecies-complementation analysis of the Hairless gene. Guided by evolutionary comparisons, we hope to eventually identify all the relevant structural domains and cofactors of Hairless, thereby opening an avenue for further insights into the repressor-complexes that down-regulate Notch signaling also in other, higher eukaryotes.
PMCID: PMC2440387  PMID: 18559091
6.  The Enhancer of Trithorax and Polycomb Corto Interacts with Cyclin G in Drosophila 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(2):e1658.
Polycomb (PcG) and trithorax (trxG) genes encode proteins involved in the maintenance of gene expression patterns, notably Hox genes, throughout development. PcG proteins are required for long-term gene repression whereas TrxG proteins are positive regulators that counteract PcG action. PcG and TrxG proteins form large complexes that bind chromatin at overlapping sites called Polycomb and Trithorax Response Elements (PRE/TRE). A third class of proteins, so-called “Enhancers of Trithorax and Polycomb” (ETP), interacts with either complexes, behaving sometimes as repressors and sometimes as activators. The role of ETP proteins is largely unknown.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In a two-hybrid screen, we identified Cyclin G (CycG) as a partner of the Drosophila ETP Corto. Inactivation of CycG by RNA interference highlights its essential role during development. We show here that Corto and CycG directly interact and bind to each other in embryos and S2 cells. Moreover, CycG is targeted to polytene chromosomes where it co-localizes at multiple sites with Corto and with the PcG factor Polyhomeotic (PH). We observed that corto is involved in maintaining Abd-B repression outside its normal expression domain in embryos. This could be achieved by association between Corto and CycG since both proteins bind the regulatory element iab-7 PRE and the promoter of the Abd-B gene.
Our results suggest that CycG could regulate the activity of Corto at chromatin and thus be involved in changing Corto from an Enhancer of TrxG into an Enhancer of PcG.
PMCID: PMC2243016  PMID: 18286205
7.  Protein Kinase D regulates several aspects of development in Drosophila melanogaster 
Protein Kinase D (PKD) is an effector of diacylglycerol-regulated signaling pathways. Three isoforms are known in mammals that have been linked to diverse cellular functions including regulation of cell proliferation, differentiation, motility and secretory transport from the trans-Golgi network to the plasma membrane. In Drosophila, there is a single PKD orthologue, whose broad expression implicates a more general role in development.
We have employed tissue specific overexpression of various PKD variants as well as tissue specific RNAi, in order to investigate the function of the PKD gene in Drosophila. Apart from a wild type (WT), a kinase dead (kd) and constitutively active (SE) Drosophila PKD variant, we also analyzed two human isoforms hPKD2 and hPKD3 for their capacity to substitute PKD activity in the fly. Overexpression of either WT or kd-PKD variants affected primarily wing vein development. However, overexpression of SE-PKD and PKD RNAi was deleterious. We observed tissue loss, wing defects and degeneration of the retina. The latter phenotype conforms to a role of PKD in the regulation of cytoskeletal dynamics. Strongest phenotypes were larval to pupal lethality. RNAi induced phenotypes could be rescued by a concurrent overexpression of Drosophila wild type PKD or either human isoform hPKD2 and hPKD3.
Our data confirm the hypothesis that Drosophila PKD is a multifunctional kinase involved in diverse processes such as regulation of the cytoskeleton, cell proliferation and death as well as differentiation of various fly tissues.
PMCID: PMC1933421  PMID: 17592635
8.  Hairless-Mediated Repression of Notch Target Genes Requires the Combined Activity of Groucho and CtBP Corepressors 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2005;25(23):10433-10441.
Notch signal transduction centers on a conserved DNA-binding protein called Suppressor of Hairless [Su(H)] in Drosophila species. In the absence of Notch activation, target genes are repressed by Su(H) acting in conjunction with a partner, Hairless, which contains binding motifs for two global corepressors, CtBP and Groucho (Gro). Usually these corepressors are thought to act via different mechanisms; complexed with other transcriptional regulators, they function independently and/or redundantly. Here we have investigated the requirement for Gro and CtBP in Hairless-mediated repression. Unexpectedly, we find that mutations inactivating one or the other binding motif can have detrimental effects on Hairless similar to those of mutations that inactivate both motifs. These results argue that recruitment of one or the other corepressor is not sufficient to confer repression in the context of the Hairless-Su(H) complex; Gro and CtBP need to function in combination. In addition, we demonstrate that Hairless has a second mode of repression that antagonizes Notch intracellular domain and is independent of Gro or CtBP binding.
PMCID: PMC1291231  PMID: 16287856
9.  The Enhancer of split and Achaete-Scute complexes of Drosophilids derived from simple ur-complexes preserved in mosquito and honeybee 
In Drosophila melanogaster the Enhancer of split-Complex [E(spl)-C] consists of seven highly related genes encoding basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) repressors and intermingled, four genes that belong to the Bearded (Brd) family. Both gene classes are targets of the Notch signalling pathway. The Achaete-Scute-Complex [AS-C] comprises four genes encoding bHLH activators. The question arose how these complexes evolved with regard to gene number in the evolution of insects concentrating on Diptera and the Hymenoptera Apis mellifera.
In Drosophilids both gene complexes are highly conserved, spanning roughly 40 million years of evolution. However, in species more diverged like Anopheles or Apis we find dramatic differences. Here, the E(spl)-C consists of one bHLH (mβ) and one Brd family member (mα) in a head to head arrangement. Interestingly in Apis but not in Anopheles, there are two more E(spl) bHLH like genes within 250 kb, which may reflect duplication events in the honeybee that occurred independently of that in Diptera. The AS-C may have arisen from a single sc/l'sc like gene which is well conserved in Apis and Anopheles and a second ase like gene that is highly diverged, however, located within 50 kb.
E(spl)-C and AS-C presumably evolved by gene duplication to the nowadays complex composition in Drosophilids in order to govern the accurate expression patterns typical for these highly evolved insects. The ancestral ur-complexes, however, consisted most likely of just two genes: E(spl)-C contains one bHLH member of mβ type and one Brd family member of mα type and AS-C contains one sc/l'sc and a highly diverged ase like gene.
PMCID: PMC1310631  PMID: 16293187
10.  The FunCat, a functional annotation scheme for systematic classification of proteins from whole genomes 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(18):5539-5545.
In this paper, we present the Functional Catalogue (FunCat), a hierarchically structured, organism-independent, flexible and scalable controlled classification system enabling the functional description of proteins from any organism. FunCat has been applied for the manual annotation of prokaryotes, fungi, plants and animals. We describe how FunCat is implemented as a highly efficient and robust tool for the manual and automatic annotation of genomic sequences. Owing to its hierarchical architecture, FunCat has also proved to be useful for many subsequent downstream bioinformatic applications. This is illustrated by the analysis of large-scale experiments from various investigations in transcriptomics and proteomics, where FunCat was used to project experimental data into functional units, as ‘gold standard’ for functional classification methods, and also served to compare the significance of different experimental methods. Over the last decade, the FunCat has been established as a robust and stable annotation scheme that offers both, meaningful and manageable functional classification as well as ease of perception.
PMCID: PMC524302  PMID: 15486203
11.  Mitochondrial Single-stranded DNA-binding Protein Is Required for Mitochondrial DNA Replication and Development in Drosophila melanogaster 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2001;12(4):821-830.
The discovery that several inherited human diseases are caused by mtDNA depletion has led to an increased interest in the replication and maintenance of mtDNA. We have isolated a new mutant in the lopo (low power) gene from Drosophila melanogaster affecting the mitochondrial single-stranded DNA-binding protein (mtSSB), which is one of the key components in mtDNA replication and maintenance. lopo1 mutants die late in the third instar before completion of metamorphosis because of a failure in cell proliferation. Molecular, histochemical, and physiological experiments show a drastic decrease in mtDNA content that is coupled with the loss of respiration in these mutants. However, the number and morphology of mitochondria are not greatly affected. Immunocytochemical analysis shows that mtSSB is expressed in all tissues but is highly enriched in proliferating tissues and in the developing oocyte. lopo1 is the first mtSSB mutant in higher eukaryotes, and its analysis demonstrates the essential function of this gene in development, providing an excellent model to study mitochondrial biogenesis in animals.
PMCID: PMC32269  PMID: 11294889

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