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1.  Hybrid Lentivirus-phiC31-int-NLS Vector Allows Site-Specific Recombination in Murine and Human Cells but Induces DNA Damage 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99649.
Gene transfer allows transient or permanent genetic modifications of cells for experimental or therapeutic purposes. Gene delivery by HIV-derived lentiviral vector (LV) is highly effective but the risk of insertional mutagenesis is important and the random/uncontrollable integration of the DNA vector can deregulate the cell transcriptional activity. Non Integrative Lentiviral Vectors (NILVs) solve this issue in non-dividing cells, but they do not allow long term expression in dividing cells. In this context, obtaining stable expression while avoiding the problems inherent to unpredictable DNA vector integration requires the ability to control the integration site. One possibility is to use the integrase of phage phiC31 (phiC31-int) which catalyzes efficient site-specific recombination between the attP site in the phage genome and the chromosomal attB site of its Streptomyces host. Previous studies showed that phiC31-int is active in many eukaryotic cells, such as murine or human cells, and directs the integration of a DNA substrate into pseudo attP sites (pattP) which are homologous to the native attP site. In this study, we combined the efficiency of NILV for gene delivery and the specificity of phiC31-int for DNA substrate integration to engineer a hybrid tool for gene transfer with the aim of allowing long term expression in dividing and non-dividing cells preventing genotoxicity. We demonstrated the feasibility to target NILV integration in human and murine pattP sites with a dual NILV vectors system: one which delivers phiC31-int, the other which constitute the substrate containing an attB site in its DNA sequence. These promising results are however alleviated by the occurrence of significant DNA damages. Further improvements are thus required to prevent chromosomal rearrangements for a therapeutic use of the system. However, its use as a tool for experimental applications such as transgenesis is already applicable.
PMCID: PMC4067480  PMID: 24956106
2.  Association study in three different populations between the GPR88 gene and major psychoses 
GPR88, coding for a G protein-coupled orphan receptor that is highly represented in the striatum, is a strong functional candidate gene for neuropsychiatric disorders and is located at 1p22-p21, a chromosomal region that we have previously linked to bipolar disorder (BD) in the Sardinian population. In order to ascertain the relevance of GPR88 as a risk factor for psychiatric diseases, we performed a genetic association analysis between GPR88 and BD in a sample of triads (patient and both parents) recruited in the Sardinian and the Palestinian population as well as between GPR88 and schizophrenia (SZ) in triads from the Xhosa population in South Africa. We found a positive association between GPR88 and BD in the Sardinian and Palestinian triads. Moreover, we found a positive association between GPR88 and SZ in triads from the Xhosa population in South Africa. When these results were corrected for multiple testing, the association between GPR88 and BD was maintained in the Palestinian population. Thus, these results suggest that GPR88 deserves consideration as a candidate gene for psychiatric diseases and requires to be further investigated in other populations.
PMCID: PMC3960057  PMID: 24689078
Candidate gene; homogeneous populations; Palestine; Sardinia; South Africa
3.  Rapid Cohort Generation and Analysis of Disease Spectrum of Large Animal Model of Cone Dystrophy 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71363.
Large animal models are an important resource for the understanding of human disease and for evaluating the applicability of new therapies to human patients. For many diseases, such as cone dystrophy, research effort is hampered by the lack of such models. Lentiviral transgenesis is a methodology broadly applicable to animals from many different species. When conjugated to the expression of a dominant mutant protein, this technology offers an attractive approach to generate new large animal models in a heterogeneous background. We adopted this strategy to mimic the phenotype diversity encounter in humans and generate a cohort of pigs for cone dystrophy by expressing a dominant mutant allele of the guanylate cyclase 2D (GUCY2D) gene. Sixty percent of the piglets were transgenic, with mutant GUCY2D mRNA detected in the retina of all animals tested. Functional impairment of vision was observed among the transgenic pigs at 3 months of age, with a follow-up at 1 year indicating a subsequent slower progression of phenotype. Abnormal retina morphology, notably among the cone photoreceptor cell population, was observed exclusively amongst the transgenic animals. Of particular note, these transgenic animals were characterized by a range in the severity of the phenotype, reflecting the human clinical situation. We demonstrate that a transgenic approach using lentiviral vectors offers a powerful tool for large animal model development. Not only is the efficiency of transgenesis higher than conventional transgenic methodology but this technique also produces a heterogeneous cohort of transgenic animals that mimics the genetic variation encountered in human patients.
PMCID: PMC3747164  PMID: 23977029
4.  Overexpression of Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors Enhances Neuronal Differentiation of Fetal Human Neural Progenitor Cells in Various Ways 
Stem Cells and Development  2011;21(4):539-553.
In a perspective of regenerative medicine, multipotent human neural progenitor cells (hNPCs) offer a therapeutic advantage over pluripotent stem cells in that they are already invariantly “neurally committed” and lack tumorigenicity. However, some of their intrinsic properties, such as slow differentiation and uncontrolled multipotency, remain among the obstacles to their routine use for transplantation. Although rodent NPCs have been genetically modified in vitro to overcome some of these limitations, the translation of this strategy to human cells remains in its early stages. In the present study, we compare the actions of 4 basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors on the proliferation, specification, and terminal differentiation of hNPCs isolated from the fetal dorsal telencephalon. Consistent with their proneural activity, Ngn1, Ngn2, Ngn3, and Mash1 prompted rapid commitment of the cells. The Ngns induced a decrease in proliferation, whereas Mash1 maintained committed progenitors in a proliferative state. As opposed to Ngn1 and Ngn3, which had no effect on glial differentiation, Ngn2 induced an increase in astrocytes in addition to neurons, whereas Mash1 led to both neuronal and oligodendroglial specification. GABAergic, cholinergic, and motor neuron differentiations were considerably increased by overexpression of Ngn2 and, to a lesser extent, of Ngn3 and Mash1. Thus, we provide evidence that hNPCs can be efficiently, rapidly, and safely expanded in vitro as well as rapidly differentiated toward mature neural (typically neuronal) lineages by the overexpression of select proneural genes.
PMCID: PMC3280607  PMID: 21561385
5.  Mass Spectrometry Reveals Changes in MHC I Antigen Presentation After Lentivector Expression of a Gene Regulation System 
The rapamycin-inducible gene regulation system was designed to minimize immune reactions in man and may thus be suited for gene therapy. We assessed whether this system indeed induces no immune responses. The protein components of the regulation system were produced in the human cell lines HEK 293T, D407, and HER 911 following lentiviral transfer of the corresponding genes. Stable cell lines were established, and the peptides presented by major histocompatibility complex class I (MHC I) molecules on transduced and wild-type (wt) cells were compared by differential mass spectrometry. In all cell lines examined, expression of the transgenes resulted in prominent changes in the repertoire of MHC I-presented self-peptides. No MHC I ligands originating from the transgenic proteins were detected. In vitro analysis of immunogenicity revealed that transduced D407 cells displayed slightly higher capacity than wt controls to promote proliferation of cytotoxic T cells. These results indicate that therapeutic manipulations within the genome of target cells may affect pathways involved in the processing of peptide antigens and their presentation by MHC I. This makes the genomic modifications visible to the immune system which may recognize these events and respond. Ultimately, the findings call attention to a possible immune risk.
PMCID: PMC3586803  PMID: 23403517
gene therapy; genotoxicity; HLA antigens; immune responses
6.  Systems medicine and integrated care to combat chronic noncommunicable diseases 
Genome Medicine  2011;3(7):43.
We propose an innovative, integrated, cost-effective health system to combat major non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular, chronic respiratory, metabolic, rheumatologic and neurologic disorders and cancers, which together are the predominant health problem of the 21st century. This proposed holistic strategy involves comprehensive patient-centered integrated care and multi-scale, multi-modal and multi-level systems approaches to tackle NCDs as a common group of diseases. Rather than studying each disease individually, it will take into account their intertwined gene-environment, socio-economic interactions and co-morbidities that lead to individual-specific complex phenotypes. It will implement a road map for predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory (P4) medicine based on a robust and extensive knowledge management infrastructure that contains individual patient information. It will be supported by strategic partnerships involving all stakeholders, including general practitioners associated with patient-centered care. This systems medicine strategy, which will take a holistic approach to disease, is designed to allow the results to be used globally, taking into account the needs and specificities of local economies and health systems.
PMCID: PMC3221551  PMID: 21745417
7.  Influence of insulators on transgene expression from integrating and non-integrating lentiviral vectors 
The efficacy and biosafety of lentiviral gene transfer is influenced by the design of the vector. To this end, properties of lentiviral vectors can be modified by using cis-acting elements such as the modification of the U3 region of the LTR, the incorporation of the central flap (cPPT-CTS) element, or post-transcriptional regulatory elements such as the woodchuck post-transcriptional regulatory element (WPRE). Recently, several studies evaluated the influence of the incorporation of insulators into the integrating lentiviral vector genome on transgene expression level and position effects.
In the present study, the influence of the matrix attachment region (MAR) of the mouse immunoglobulin-κ (Ig-κ) or the chicken lysozyme (ChL) gene was studied on three types of HIV-1-derived lentiviral vectors: self-inactivating (SIN) lentiviral vectors (LV), double-copy lentiviral vectors (DC) and non-integrating lentiviral vectors (NILVs) in different cell types: HeLa, HEK293T, NIH-3T3, Raji, and T Jurkat cell lines and primary neural progenitors.
Results and Discussion
Our results demonstrate that the Ig-κ MAR in the context of LV slightly increases transduction efficiency only in Hela, NIH-3T3 and Jurkat cells. In the context of double-copy lentiviral vectors, the Ig-κ MAR has no effect or even negatively influences transduction efficiency. In the same way, in the context of non-integrating lentiviral vectors, the Ig-κ MAR has no effect or even negatively influences transduction efficiency, except in differentiated primary neural progenitor cells.
The ChL MAR in the context of integrating and non-integrating lentiviral vectors shows no effect or a decrease of transgene expression in all tested conditions.
This study demonstrates that MAR sequences not necessarily increase transgene expression and that the effect of these sequences is probably context dependent and/or vector dependent. Thus, this study highlights the importance to consider a MAR sequence in a given context. Moreover, other recent reports pointed out the potential effects of random integration of insulators on the expression level of endogenous genes. Taken together, these results show that the use of an insulator in a vector for gene therapy must be well assessed in the particular therapeutic context that it will be used for, and must be balanced with its potential genotoxic effects.
PMCID: PMC3025823  PMID: 21205311
8.  Grafted Human Embryonic Progenitors Expressing Neurogenin-2 Stimulate Axonal Sprouting and Improve Motor Recovery after Severe Spinal Cord Injury 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e15914.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a widely spread pathology with currently no effective treatment for any symptom. Regenerative medicine through cell transplantation is a very attractive strategy and may be used in different non-exclusive ways to promote functional recovery. We investigated functional and structural outcomes after grafting human embryonic neural progenitors (hENPs) in spinal cord-lesioned rats.
Methods and Principal Findings
With the objective of translation to clinics we have chosen a paradigm of delayed grafting, i.e., one week after lesion, in a severe model of spinal cord compression in adult rats. hENPs were either naïve or engineered to express Neurogenin 2 (Ngn2). Moreover, we have compared integrating and non-integrating lentiviral vectors, since the latter present reduced risks of insertional mutagenesis. We show that transplantation of hENPs transduced to express Ngn2 fully restore weight support and improve functional motor recovery after severe spinal cord compression at thoracic level. This was correlated with partial restoration of serotonin innervations at lumbar level, and translocation of 5HT1A receptors to the plasma membrane of motoneurons. Since hENPs were not detectable 4 weeks after grafting, transitory expression of Ngn2 appears sufficient to achieve motor recovery and to permit axonal regeneration. Importantly, we also demonstrate that transplantation of naïve hENPs is detrimental to functional recovery.
Conclusions and Significance
Transplantation and short-term survival of Ngn2-expressing hENPs restore weight support after SCI and partially restore serotonin fibers density and 5HT1A receptor pattern caudal to the lesion. Moreover, grafting of naïve-hENPs was found to worsen the outcome versus injured only animals, thus pointing to the possible detrimental effect of stem cell-based therapy per se in SCI. This is of major importance given the increasing number of clinical trials involving cell grafting developed for SCI patients.
PMCID: PMC3012721  PMID: 21209909
9.  The Extract of Ginkgo biloba EGb 761 Reactivates a Juvenile Profile in the Skeletal Muscle of Sarcopenic Rats by Transcriptional Reprogramming 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(11):e7998.
Sarcopenia is a major public health problem in industrialized nations, placing an increasing burden on public healthcare systems because the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength that characterizes this affection increases the dependence and the risk of injury caused by sudden falls in elderly people. Albeit exercise and caloric restriction improve sarcopenia-associated decline of the muscular performances, a more suitable and focused pharmacological treatment is still lacking.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In order to evaluate such a possible treatment, we investigated the effects of EGb 761, a Ginkgo biloba extract used in chronic age-dependent neurological disorders, on the function of the soleus muscle in aged rats. EGb 761 induced a gain in muscular mass that was associated with an improvement of the muscular performances as assessed by biochemical and electrophysiological tests. DNA microarray analysis shows that these modifications are accompanied by the transcriptional reprogramming of genes related to myogenesis through the TGFβ signaling pathway and to energy production via fatty acids and glucose oxidation. EGb 761 restored a more juvenile gene expression pattern by regenerating the aged muscle and reversing the age-related metabolic shift from lipids to glucose utilization.
Thus, EGb 761 may represent a novel treatment for sarcopenia both more manageable and less cumbersome than exercise and caloric restriction.
PMCID: PMC2778626  PMID: 19956636
10.  Smoking Induces Long-Lasting Effects through a Monoamine-Oxidase Epigenetic Regulation 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(11):e7959.
Postulating that serotonin (5-HT), released from smoking-activated platelets could be involved in smoking-induced vascular modifications, we studied its catabolism in a series of 115 men distributed as current smokers (S), never smokers (NS) and former smokers (FS) who had stopped smoking for a mean of 13 years.
Methodology/Principal Findings
5-HT, monoamine oxidase (MAO-B) activities and amounts were measured in platelets, and 5-hydroxyindolacetic acid (5-HIAA)—the 5-HT/MAO catabolite—in plasma samples. Both platelet 5-HT and plasma 5-HIAA levels were correlated with the 10-year cardiovascular Framingham relative risk (P<0.01), but these correlations became non-significant after adjustment for smoking status, underlining that the determining risk factor among those taken into account in the Framingham risk calculation was smoking. Surprisingly, the platelet 5-HT content was similar in S and NS but lower in FS with a parallel higher plasma level of 5-HIAA in FS. This was unforeseen since MAO-B activity was inhibited during smoking (P<0.00001). It was, however, consistent with a higher enzyme protein concentration found in S and FS than in NS (P<0.001). It thus appears that MAO inhibition during smoking was compensated by a higher synthesis. To investigate the persistent increase in MAO-B protein concentration, a study of the methylation of its gene promoter was undertaken in a small supplementary cohort of similar subjects. We found that the methylation frequency of the MAOB gene promoter was markedly lower (P<0.0001) for S and FS vs. NS due to cigarette smoke-induced increase of nucleic acid demethylase activity.
This is one of the first reports that smoking induces an epigenetic modification. A better understanding of the epigenome may help to further elucidate the physiopathology and the development of new therapeutic approaches to tobacco addiction. The results could have a larger impact than cardiovascular damage, considering that MAO-dependent 5-HT catabolism is also involved in addiction, predisposition to cancer, behaviour and mental health.
PMCID: PMC2775922  PMID: 19956754
11.  A Novel and Efficient Gene Transfer Strategy Reduces Glial Reactivity and Improves Neuronal Survival and Axonal Growth In Vitro 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(7):e6227.
The lack of axonal regeneration in the central nervous system is attributed among other factors to the formation of a glial scar. This cellular structure is mainly composed of reactive astrocytes that overexpress two intermediate filament proteins, the glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and vimentin. Indeed, in vitro, astrocytes lacking GFAP or both GFAP and vimentin were shown to be the substrate for increased neuronal plasticity. Moreover, double knockout mice lacking both GFAP and vimentin presented lower levels of glial reactivity in vivo, significant axonal regrowth and improved functional recovery in comparison with wild-type mice after spinal cord hemisection. From these results, our objective was to develop a novel therapeutic strategy for axonal regeneration, based on the targeted suppression of astroglial reactivity and scarring by lentiviral-mediated RNA-interference (RNAi).
Methods and Findings
In this study, we constructed two lentiviral vectors, Lv-shGFAP and Lv-shVIM, which allow efficient and stable RNAi-mediated silencing of endogenous GFAP or vimentin in vitro. In cultured cortical and spinal reactive astrocytes, the use of these vectors resulted in a specific, stable and highly significant decrease in the corresponding protein levels. In a second model — scratched primary cultured astrocytes — Lv-shGFAP, alone or associated with Lv-shVIM, decreased astrocytic reactivity and glial scarring. Finally, in a heterotopic coculture model, cortical neurons displayed higher survival rates and increased neurite growth when cultured with astrocytes in which GFAP and vimentin had been invalidated by lentiviral-mediated RNAi.
Lentiviral-mediated knockdown of GFAP and vimentin in astrocytes show that GFAP is a key target for modulating reactive gliosis and monitoring neuron/glia interactions. Thus, manipulation of reactive astrocytes with the Lv-shGFAP vector constitutes a promising therapeutic strategy for increasing glial permissiveness and permitting axonal regeneration after central nervous system lesions.
PMCID: PMC2705675  PMID: 19597552
12.  A New Strategy to Generate Functional Insulin-Producing Cell Lines by Somatic Gene Transfer into Pancreatic Progenitors 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(3):e4731.
There is increasing interest in developing human cell lines to be used to better understand cell biology, but also for drug screening, toxicology analysis and future cell therapy. In the endocrine pancreatic field, functional human beta cell lines are extremely scarce. On the other hand, rodent insulin producing beta cells have been generated during the past years with great success. Many of such cell lines were produced by using transgenic mice expressing SV40T antigen under the control of the insulin promoter, an approach clearly inadequate in human. Our objective was to develop and validate in rodent an alternative transgenic-like approach, applicable to human tissue, by performing somatic gene transfer into pancreatic progenitors that will develop into beta cells.
Methods and Findings
In this study, rat embryonic pancreases were transduced with recombinant lentiviral vector expressing the SV40T antigen under the control of the insulin promoter. Transduced tissues were next transplanted under the kidney capsule of immuno-incompetent mice allowing insulinoma development from which beta cell lines were established. Gene expression profile, insulin content and glucose dependent secretion, normalization of glycemia upon transplantation into diabetic mice validated the approach to generate beta cell lines.
Somatic gene transfer into pancreatic progenitors represents an alternative strategy to generate functional beta cell lines in rodent. Moreover, this approach can be generalized to derive cells lines from various tissues and most importantly from tissues of human origin.
PMCID: PMC2649535  PMID: 19266046
13.  Beta Cells within Single Human Islets Originate from Multiple Progenitors 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(10):e3559.
In both humans and rodents, glucose homeostasis is controlled by micro-organs called islets of Langerhans composed of beta cells, associated with other endocrine cell types. Most of our understanding of islet cell differentiation and morphogenesis is derived from rodent developmental studies. However, little is known about human islet formation. The lack of adequate experimental models has restricted the study of human pancreatic development to the histological analysis of different stages of pancreatic development. Our objective was to develop a new experimental model to (i) transfer genes into developing human pancreatic cells and (ii) validate gene transfer by defining the clonality of developing human islets.
Methods and Findings
In this study, a unique model was developed combining ex vivo organogenesis from human fetal pancreatic tissue and cell type-specific lentivirus-mediated gene transfer. Human pancreatic progenitors were transduced with lentiviruses expressing GFP under the control of an insulin promoter and grafted to severe combined immunodeficient mice, allowing human beta cell differentiation and islet morphogenesis. By performing gene transfer at low multiplicity of infection, we created a chimeric graft with a subpopulation of human beta cells expressing GFP and found both GFP-positive and GFP-negative beta cells within single islets.
The detection of both labeled and unlabeled beta cells in single islets demonstrates that beta cells present in a human islet are derived from multiple progenitors thus providing the first dynamic analysis of human islet formation during development. This human transgenic-like tool can be widely used to elucidate dynamic genetic processes in human tissue formation.
PMCID: PMC2571119  PMID: 18958289
14.  Control of small inhibitory RNA levels and RNA interference by doxycycline induced activation of a minimal RNA polymerase III promoter 
Nucleic Acids Research  2006;34(5):e37.
RNA interference (RNAi) mediated by expression of short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) is a powerful tool for efficiently suppressing target genes. The approach allows studies of the function of individual genes and may also be applied to human therapy. However, in many instances regulation of RNAi by administration of a small inducer molecule will be required. To date, the development of appropriate regulatory systems has been hampered by the few possibilities for modification within RNA polymerase III promoters capable of driving efficient expression of shRNAs. We have developed an inducible minimal RNA polymerase III promoter that is activated by a novel recombinant transactivator in the presence of doxycycline (Dox). The recombinant transactivator and the engineered promoter together form a system permitting regulation of RNAi by Dox-induced expression of shRNAs. Regulated RNAi was mediated by one single lentiviral vector, blocked the expression of green fluorescent protein (GFP) in a GFP-expressing HEK 293T derived cell line and suppressed endogenous p53 in wild-type HEK 293T, MCF-7 and A549 cells. RNA interference was induced in a dose- and time-dependent manner by administration of Dox, silenced the expression of both target genes by 90% and was in particular reversible after withdrawal of Dox.
PMCID: PMC1390691  PMID: 16522642
15.  ZENON, a Novel POZ Kruppel-Like DNA Binding Protein Associated with Differentiation and/or Survival of Late Postmitotic Neurons 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2005;25(5):1713-1729.
The rat tyrosine hydroxylase gene promoter contains an E-box/dyad motif and an octameric and heptameric element that may be recognized by classes of transcription factors highly expressed during nervous system development. In a one-hybrid genetic screen, we used these sites as targets to isolate cDNAs encoding new transcription factors present in the brain. We identified ZENON, a novel rat POZ protein that contains two clusters of Kruppel-like zinc fingers and that presents several features of a transcription factor. ZENON is found in nuclei following transient transfection with the cDNA. The N-terminal zinc finger cluster contains a DNA binding domain that interacts with the E box. Cotranfection experiments revealed that ZENON induces tyrosine hydroxylase promoter activity. Unlike other POZ proteins, the ZENON POZ domain is not required for either activation of transcription or self-association. In the embryonic neural tube, ZENON expression is restricted to neurons that have already achieved mitosis and are engaged in late stages of neuronal differentiation (late postmitotic neurons). ZENON neuronal expression persists in the adult brain; therefore, ZENON can be considered a marker of mature neurons. We propose that ZENON is involved in the maintenance of panneuronal features and/or in the survival of mature neurons.
PMCID: PMC549352  PMID: 15713629

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