Expansions of trinucleotide CAG/CTG repeats in somatic tissues are thought to contribute to ongoing disease progression through an affected individual's life with Huntington's disease or myotonic dystrophy. Broad ranges of repeat instability arise between individuals with expanded repeats, suggesting the existence of modifiers of repeat instability. Mice with expanded CAG/CTG repeats show variable levels of instability depending upon mouse strain. However, to date the genetic modifiers underlying these differences have not been identified. We show that in liver and striatum the R6/1 Huntington's disease (HD) (CAG)∼100 transgene, when present in a congenic C57BL/6J (B6) background, incurred expansion-biased repeat mutations, whereas the repeat was stable in a congenic BALB/cByJ (CBy) background. Reciprocal congenic mice revealed the Msh3 gene as the determinant for the differences in repeat instability. Expansion bias was observed in congenic mice homozygous for the B6 Msh3 gene on a CBy background, while the CAG tract was stabilized in congenics homozygous for the CBy Msh3 gene on a B6 background. The CAG stabilization was as dramatic as genetic deficiency of Msh2. The B6 and CBy Msh3 genes had identical promoters but differed in coding regions and showed strikingly different protein levels. B6 MSH3 variant protein is highly expressed and associated with CAG expansions, while the CBy MSH3 variant protein is expressed at barely detectable levels, associating with CAG stability. The DHFR protein, which is divergently transcribed from a promoter shared by the Msh3 gene, did not show varied levels between mouse strains. Thus, naturally occurring MSH3 protein polymorphisms are modifiers of CAG repeat instability, likely through variable MSH3 protein stability. Since evidence supports that somatic CAG instability is a modifier and predictor of disease, our data are consistent with the hypothesis that variable levels of CAG instability associated with polymorphisms of DNA repair genes may have prognostic implications for various repeat-associated diseases.
The genetic instability of repetitive DNA sequences in particular genes can lead to numerous neurodegenerative, neurological, and neuromuscular diseases. These diseases show progressively increasing severity of symptoms through the life of the affected individual, a phenomenon that is linked with increasing instability of the repeated sequences as the person ages. There is variability in the levels of this instability between individuals—the source of this variability is unknown. We have shown in a mouse model of repeat instability that small differences in a certain DNA repair gene, MSH3, whose protein is known to fix broken DNA, can lead to variable levels of repeat instability. These DNA repair variants lead to different repair protein levels, where lower levels lead to reduced repeat instability. Our findings reveal that such naturally occurring variations in DNA repair genes in affected humans may serve as a predictor of disease progression. Moreover, our findings support the concept that pharmacological reduction of MSH3 protein should reduce repeat instability and disease progression.
SOX2 is a master regulator of both pluripotent embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and multipotent neural progenitor cells (NPCs); however, we currently lack a detailed understanding of how SOX2 controls these distinct stem cell populations. Here we show by genome-wide analysis that, while SOX2 bound to a distinct set of gene promoters in ESCs and NPCs, the majority of regions coincided with unique distal enhancer elements, important cis-acting regulators of tissue-specific gene expression programs. Notably, SOX2 bound the same consensus DNA motif in both cell types, suggesting that additional factors contribute to target specificity. We found that, similar to its association with OCT4 (Pou5f1) in ESCs, the related POU family member BRN2 (Pou3f2) co-occupied a large set of putative distal enhancers with SOX2 in NPCs. Forced expression of BRN2 in ESCs led to functional recruitment of SOX2 to a subset of NPC-specific targets and to precocious differentiation toward a neural-like state. Further analysis of the bound sequences revealed differences in the distances of SOX and POU peaks in the two cell types and identified motifs for additional transcription factors. Together, these data suggest that SOX2 controls a larger network of genes than previously anticipated through binding of distal enhancers and that transitions in POU partner factors may control tissue-specific transcriptional programs. Our findings have important implications for understanding lineage specification and somatic cell reprogramming, where SOX2, OCT4, and BRN2 have been shown to be key factors.
In mammals, a few thousand transcription factors regulate the differential expression of more than 20,000 genes to specify ∼200 functionally distinct cell types during development. How this is accomplished has been a major focus of biology. Transcription factors bind non-coding DNA regulatory elements, including proximal promoters and distal enhancers, to control gene expression. Emerging evidence indicates that transcription factor binding at distal enhancers plays an important role in the establishment of tissue-specific gene expression programs during development. Further, combinatorial binding among groups of transcription factors can further increase the diversity and specificity of regulatory modules. Here, we report the genome-wide binding profile of the HMG-box containing transcription factor SOX2 in mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and neural progenitor cells (NPCs), and we show that SOX2 occupied a distinct set of binding sites with POU homeodomain family members, OCT4 in ESCs and BRN2 in NPCs. Thus, transitions in SOX2-POU partners may control tissue-specific gene networks. Ultimately, a global analysis detailing the combinatorial binding of transcription factors across all tissues is critical to understand cell fate specification in the context of the complex mammalian genome.
Peroxisomes are subcellular organelles involved in lipid metabolic processes, including those of very-long-chain fatty acids and branched-chain fatty acids, among others. Peroxisome matrix proteins are synthesized in the cytoplasm. Targeting signals (PTS or peroxisomal targeting signal) at the C-terminus (PTS1) or N-terminus (PTS2) of peroxisomal matrix proteins mediate their import into the organelle. In the case of PTS2-containing proteins, the PTS2 signal is cleaved from the protein when transported into peroxisomes. The functional mechanism of PTS2 processing, however, is poorly understood. Previously we identified Tysnd1 (Trypsin domain containing 1) and biochemically characterized it as a peroxisomal cysteine endopeptidase that directly processes PTS2-containing prethiolase Acaa1 and PTS1-containing Acox1, Hsd17b4, and ScpX. The latter three enzymes are crucial components of the very-long-chain fatty acids β-oxidation pathway. To clarify the in vivo functions and physiological role of Tysnd1, we analyzed the phenotype of Tysnd1−/− mice. Male Tysnd1−/− mice are infertile, and the epididymal sperms lack the acrosomal cap. These phenotypic features are most likely the result of changes in the molecular species composition of choline and ethanolamine plasmalogens. Tysnd1−/− mice also developed liver dysfunctions when the phytanic acid precursor phytol was orally administered. Phyh and Agps are known PTS2-containing proteins, but were identified as novel Tysnd1 substrates. Loss of Tysnd1 interferes with the peroxisomal localization of Acaa1, Phyh, and Agps, which might cause the mild Zellweger syndrome spectrum-resembling phenotypes. Our data established that peroxisomal processing protease Tysnd1 is necessary to mediate the physiological functions of PTS2-containing substrates.
Peroxisomes are subcellular organelles that are present in almost all eukaryotic cells. The syllables “per-oxi” reflect the oxidative functions of these single-membrane-bound organelles in various metabolic processes, including those of very-long-chain fatty acids and branched-chain fatty acids. In an earlier study we identified a protease named Tysnd1 that is specifically located in the peroxisomes and processes the enzymes catalyzing the peroxisomal β-oxidation of very-long-chain fatty acids. In this study, we identified two novel Tysnd1 substrates, Agps and Phyh, which are involved in plasmalogen synthesis and phytanic acid metabolism, respectively. To further investigate the in vivo function of Tysnd1, we analyzed Tysnd1 knock-out mice. Mice that lack Tysnd1 showed reduced peroxisomal β-oxidation activity and an altered plasmalogen composition, as well as an abnormal phytanic acid metabolism. Male infertility is one of the major phenotypic manifestations of Tysnd1 deficiency. Our data support the idea that Tysnd1 affects the localization and activity of some of its substrates inside peroxisomes. Altogether, our Tysnd1-deficient mouse model expands the current peroxisome biology knowledge with regard to the molecular pathogenic mechanisms that may be relevant to some patients with Zellweger syndrome spectrum disorders.
The ribosome is an evolutionarily conserved organelle essential for cellular function. Ribosome construction requires assembly of approximately 80 different ribosomal proteins (RPs) and four different species of rRNA. As RPs co-assemble into one multi-subunit complex, mutation of the genes that encode RPs might be expected to give rise to phenocopies, in which the same phenotype is associated with loss-of-function of each individual gene. However, a more complex picture is emerging in which, in addition to a group of shared phenotypes, diverse RP gene-specific phenotypes are observed. Here we report the first two mouse mutations (Rps7Mtu and Rps7Zma) of ribosomal protein S7 (Rps7), a gene that has been implicated in Diamond-Blackfan anemia. Rps7 disruption results in decreased body size, abnormal skeletal morphology, mid-ventral white spotting, and eye malformations. These phenotypes are reported in other murine RP mutants and, as demonstrated for some other RP mutations, are ameliorated by Trp53 deficiency. Interestingly, Rps7 mutants have additional overt malformations of the developing central nervous system and deficits in working memory, phenotypes that are not reported in murine or human RP gene mutants. Conversely, Rps7 mouse mutants show no anemia or hyperpigmentation, phenotypes associated with mutation of human RPS7 and other murine RPs, respectively. We provide two novel RP mouse models and expand the repertoire of potential phenotypes that should be examined in RP mutants to further explore the concept of RP gene-specific phenotypes.
Ribosomes are composed of two subunits that each consist of a large number of proteins, and their function of translating mRNA into protein is essential for cell viability. Naturally occurring or genetically engineered mutations within an individual ribosomal protein provide a valuable resource, since the resulting abnormal phenotypes reveal the function of each ribosomal protein. A number of mutations recently identified in mammalian ribosomal subunit genes have confirmed that homozygous loss of function consistently results in lethality; however, haploinsufficiency causes a variety of tissue-specific phenotypes. In this paper, we describe the first mutant alleles of the gene encoding ribosomal protein S7 (Rps7) in mouse. Rps7 haploinsufficiency causes decreased size, abnormal skeletal morphology, mid-ventral white spotting, and eye malformations, phenotypes that also occur with haploinsufficiency for other ribosomal subunits. Additionally, significant apoptosis occurs within the developing central nervous system (CNS) along with subtle behavioral phenotypes, suggesting RPS7 is required for CNS development. Mutation of human RPS7 has been implicated in Diamond-Blackfan anemia (DBA), yet the murine alleles do not present an analogous phenotype. The phenotypes we observe in the Rps7 mouse mutants indicate RPS7 should be considered as a candidate for a broader spectrum of human diseases.
Prion diseases are rare but invariably fatal neurodegenerative disorders. They are associated with spongiform encephalopathy, a histopathology characterized by the presence of large, membrane-bound vacuolar structures in the neuropil of the brain. While the primary cause is recognized as conversion of the normal form of prion protein (PrPC) to a conformationally distinct, pathogenic form (PrPSc), the cellular pathways and mechanisms that lead to spongiform change, neuronal dysfunction and death are not known. Mice lacking the Mahogunin Ring Finger 1 (MGRN1) E3 ubiquitin ligase develop spongiform encephalopathy by 9 months of age but do not become ill. In cell culture, PrP aberrantly present in the cytosol was reported to interact with and sequester MGRN1. This caused endo-lysosomal trafficking defects similar to those observed when Mgrn1 expression is knocked down, implicating disrupted MGRN1-dependent trafficking in the pathogenesis of prion disease. As these defects were rescued by over-expression of MGRN1, we investigated whether reduced or elevated Mgrn1 expression influences the onset, progression or pathology of disease in mice inoculated with PrPSc. No differences were observed, indicating that disruption of MGRN1-dependent pathways does not play a significant role in the pathogenesis of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy.
A critical step in the assembly of the neural circuits that control tetrapod locomotion is the specification of the lateral motor column (LMC), a diverse motor neuron population targeting limb musculature. Hox6 paralog group genes have been implicated as key determinants of LMC fate at forelimb levels of the spinal cord, through their ability to promote expression of the LMC-restricted genes Foxp1 and Raldh2 and to suppress thoracic fates through exclusion of Hoxc9. The specific roles and mechanisms of Hox6 gene function in LMC neurons, however, are not known. We show that Hox6 genes are critical for diverse facets of LMC identity and define motifs required for their in vivo specificities. Although Hox6 genes are necessary for generating the appropriate number of LMC neurons, they are not absolutely required for the induction of forelimb LMC molecular determinants. In the absence of Hox6 activity, LMC identity appears to be preserved through a diverse array of Hox5–Hox8 paralogs, which are sufficient to reprogram thoracic motor neurons to an LMC fate. In contrast to the apparently permissive Hox inputs to early LMC gene programs, individual Hox genes, such as Hoxc6, have specific roles in promoting motor neuron pool diversity within the LMC. Dissection of motifs required for Hox in vivo specificities reveals that either cross-repressive interactions or cooperativity with Pbx cofactors are sufficient to induce LMC identity, with the N-terminus capable of promoting columnar, but not pool, identity when transferred to a heterologous homeodomain. These results indicate that Hox proteins orchestrate diverse aspects of cell fate specification through both the convergent regulation of gene programs regulated by many paralogs and also more restricted actions encoded through specificity determinants in the N-terminus.
Coordinated motor behaviors—as complex as playing a musical instrument or as simple as walking—rely on the ability of motor neurons within the spinal cord to navigate towards and establish specific connections with muscles in the limbs. The establishment of connections between motor neurons and limb muscles is mediated through the actions of genes encoding Hox proteins, a large family of transcription factors conserved amongst all metazoans. However, the specific requirements for Hox genes in motor neuron specification and patterns of muscle connectivity are poorly understood. We have found that members of the Hox6 gene paralog group (Hoxa6, Hoxc6, and Hoxb6) contribute to diverse aspects of motor neuron subtype differentiation. Hox6 gene activity is required during two critical phases of motor neuron development: first as motor axons select a trajectory toward the forelimb and second as they choose specific muscles to innervate. At the molecular level, these two functions are encoded by distinct peptide domains within Hox proteins. This work indicates that Hox proteins execute their critical functions in motor neurons through intrinsic modules that confer distinct specificities and that these activities are central in the genetic network required for motor neuron differentiation.
The genetic determination of eggshell coloration has not been determined in birds. Here we report that the blue eggshell is caused by an EAV-HP insertion that promotes the expression of SLCO1B3 gene in the uterus (shell gland) of the oviduct in chicken. In this study, the genetic map location of the blue eggshell gene was refined by linkage analysis in an F2 chicken population, and four candidate genes within the refined interval were subsequently tested for their expression levels in the shell gland of the uterus from blue-shelled and non-blue-shelled hens. SLCO1B3 gene was found to be the only one expressed in the uterus of blue-shelled hens but not in that of non-blue-shelled hens. Results from a pyrosequencing analysis showed that only the allele of SLCO1B3 from blue-shelled chickens was expressed in the uterus of heterozygous hens (O*LC/O*N). SLCO1B3 gene belongs to the organic anion transporting polypeptide (OATP) family; and the OATPs, functioning as membrane transporters, have been reported for the transportation of amphipathic organic compounds, including bile salt in mammals. We subsequently resequenced the whole genomic region of SLCO1B3 and discovered an EAV-HP insertion in the 5′ flanking region of SLCO1B3. The EAV-HP insertion was found closely associated with blue eggshell phenotype following complete Mendelian segregation. In situ hybridization also demonstrated that the blue eggshell is associated with ectopic expression of SLCO1B3 in shell glands of uterus. Our finding strongly suggests that the EAV-HP insertion is the causative mutation for the blue eggshell phenotype. The insertion was also found in another Chinese blue-shelled breed and an American blue-shelled breed. In addition, we found that the insertion site in the blue-shelled chickens from Araucana is different from that in Chinese breeds, which implied independent integration events in the blue-shelled chickens from the two continents, providing a parallel evolutionary example at the molecular level.
The eggshell color of birds is of wide interest, but the molecular basis remained unknown until our discovery, reported here. The blue eggshell is found not only in wild birds but also in domestic fowls. In this study, we identified that blue eggshell in chickens from different geographical regions is caused by a ∼4.2 kb EAV-HP insertion in the 5′ flanking region of SLCO1B3. The EAV-HP insertion in chicken is a derived mutation in domestic chickens. The genetic determination of blue eggshell in other birds requires further investigation. We also found that the EAV-HP insertions in the chickens from China and America were separate integration events, which presents us with a parallel molecular evolution example driven by artificial selection.
In oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC), metastasis to lymph nodes is associated with a 50% reduction in 5-year survival. To identify a metastatic gene set based on DNA copy number abnormalities (CNAs) of differentially expressed genes, we compared DNA and RNA of OSCC cells laser-microdissected from non-metastatic primary tumors (n = 17) with those from lymph node metastases (n = 20), using Affymetrix 250K Nsp single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) arrays and U133 Plus 2.0 arrays, respectively. With a false discovery rate (FDR)<5%, 1988 transcripts were found to be differentially expressed between primary and metastatic OSCC. Of these, 114 were found to have a significant correlation between DNA copy number and gene expression (FDR<0.01). Among these 114 correlated transcripts, the corresponding genomic regions of each of 95 transcripts had CNAs differences between primary and metastatic OSCC (FDR<0.01). Using an independent dataset of 133 patients, multivariable analysis showed that the OSCC–specific and overall mortality hazards ratio (HR) for patients carrying the 95-transcript signature were 4.75 (95% CI: 2.03–11.11) and 3.45 (95% CI: 1.84–6.50), respectively. To determine the degree by which these genes impact cell survival, we compared the growth of five OSCC cell lines before and after knockdown of over-amplified transcripts via a high-throughput siRNA–mediated screen. The expression-knockdown of 18 of the 26 genes tested showed a growth suppression ≥30% in at least one cell line (P<0.01). In particular, cell lines derived from late-stage OSCC were more sensitive to the knockdown of G3BP1 than cell lines derived from early-stage OSCC, and the growth suppression was likely caused by increase in apoptosis. Further investigation is warranted to examine the biological role of these genes in OSCC progression and their therapeutic potentials.
Neck lymph node metastasis is the most important prognostic factor in oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). To identify genes associated with this critical step of OSCC progression, we compared DNA copy number aberrations and gene expression differences between tumor cells found in metastatic lymph nodes versus those in non-metastatic primary tumors. We identified 95 transcripts (87 genes) with metastasis-specific genome abnormalities and gene expression. Tested in an independent cohort of 133 OSCC patients, the 95 gene signature was an independent risk factor of disease-specific and overall death, suggesting a disease progression phenotype. We knocked down the expression of over-amplified genes in five OSCC cell lines. Knockdown of 18 of the 26 tested genes suppressed the cell growth in at least one cell line. Interestingly, cell lines derived from late-stage OSCC were more sensitive to the knockdown of G3BP1 than cell lines derived from early-stage OSCC. The knockdown of G3BP1 increased programmed cell death in the p53-mutant but not wild-type OSCC cell lines. Taken together, we demonstrate that CNA–associated transcripts differentially expressed in carcinoma cells with an aggressive phenotype (i.e., metastatic to lymph nodes) can be biomarkers with both prognostic information and functional relevance. Moreover, results suggest that G3BP1 is a potential therapeutic target against late-stage p53-negative OSCC.
Methylation is a post-translational modification that can affect numerous features of proteins, notably cellular localization, turnover, activity, and molecular interactions. Recent genome-wide analyses have considerably extended the list of human genes encoding putative methyltransferases. Studies on protein methyltransferases have revealed that the regulatory function of methylation is not limited to epigenetics, with many non-histone substrates now being discovered. We present here our findings on a novel family of distantly related putative methyltransferases. Affinity purification coupled to mass spectrometry shows a marked preference for these proteins to associate with various chaperones. Based on the spectral data, we were able to identify methylation sites in substrates, notably trimethylation of K135 of KIN/Kin17, K561 of HSPA8/Hsc70 as well as corresponding lysine residues in other Hsp70 isoforms, and K315 of VCP/p97. All modification sites were subsequently confirmed in vitro. In the case of VCP, methylation by METTL21D was stimulated by the addition of the UBX cofactor ASPSCR1, which we show directly interacts with the methyltransferase. This stimulatory effect was lost when we used VCP mutants (R155H, R159G, and R191Q) known to cause Inclusion Body Myopathy with Paget's disease of bone and Fronto-temporal Dementia (IBMPFD) and/or familial Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Lysine 315 falls in proximity to the Walker B motif of VCP's first ATPase/D1 domain. Our results indicate that methylation of this site negatively impacts its ATPase activity. Overall, this report uncovers a new role for protein methylation as a regulatory pathway for molecular chaperones and defines a novel regulatory mechanism for the chaperone VCP, whose deregulation is causative of degenerative neuromuscular diseases.
Methylation, or transfer of a single or multiple methyl groups (CH3), is one of many post-translational modifications that occur on proteins. Such modifications can, in turn, affect numerous aspects of a protein, notably cellular localization, turnover, activity, and molecular interactions. In addition to post-translational modifications, the structural organization of a protein or protein complex can also have a significant impact on its function and stability. A group of factors known as “molecular chaperones” aid newly synthesized proteins in reaching their native conformation or alternating between physiologically relevant states. We present here a new family of factors that promote methylation of chaperones and show that, at least in one case, this modification translates into a modulation in the activity of the substrate chaperone. Our results not only characterize the function of previously unknown gene products, uncover a new role for protein methylation as a regulatory pathway for chaperones, and define a novel regulatory mechanism for the chaperone VCP, whose deregulation is causative of neuromuscular diseases, but also suggest the existence of a post-translational modification code that regulates molecular chaperones. Further decrypting this “chaperone code” will help understanding how the functional organization of the proteome is orchestrated.
Mastermind-like 1 (MAML1) is a transcriptional co-activator in the Notch signaling pathway. Recently, however, several reports revealed novel and unique roles for MAML1 that are independent of the Notch signaling pathway. We found that MAML1 enhances the transcriptional activity of runt-related transcription factor 2 (Runx2), a transcription factor essential for osteoblastic differentiation and chondrocyte proliferation and maturation. MAML1 significantly enhanced the Runx2-mediated transcription of the p6OSE2-Luc reporter, in which luciferase expression was controlled by six copies of the osteoblast specific element 2 (OSE2) from the Runx2-regulated osteocalcin gene promoter. Interestingly, a deletion mutant of MAML1 lacking the N-terminal Notch-binding domain also enhanced Runx2-mediated transcription. Moreover, inhibition of Notch signaling did not affect the action of MAML1 on Runx2, suggesting that the activation of Runx2 by MAML1 may be caused in a Notch-independent manner. Overexpression of MAML1 transiently enhanced the Runx2-mediated expression of alkaline phosphatase, an early marker of osteoblast differentiation, in the murine pluripotent mesenchymal cell line C3H10T1/2. MAML1−/− embryos at embryonic day 16.5 (E16.5) had shorter bone lengths than wild-type embryos. The area of primary spongiosa of the femoral diaphysis was narrowed. At E14.5, extended zone of collagen type II alpha 1 (Col2a1) and Sox9 expression, markers of chondrocyte differentiation, and decreased zone of collagen type X alpha 1 (Col10a1) expression, a marker of hypertrophic chondrocyte, were observed. These observations suggest that chondrocyte maturation was impaired in MAML1−/− mice. MAML1 enhances the transcriptional activity of Runx2 and plays a role in bone development.
To identify new molecules involved in bone and cartilage development and/or homeostasis, we utilized approximately 10,000 arrayed and addressable cDNA clones, which allowed systematic, efficient, and unbiased screening of cDNAs encoding factors that could activate critical bone differentiation activity via activation of Runx2, master regulator of bone development. We analyzed MAML1−/− mice to investigate the role of MAML1 in bone development. MAML1−/− embryos at embryonic day 14.5 and 16.5 had shorter bone lengths than wild-type embryos. The area of primary spongiosa of the femoral diaphysis was narrowed, indicated that chondrocyte maturation was impaired. This revealed that MAML1 plays an important role in proper bone development and may provide us with a new basis for identifying potential therapeutic targets for bone diseases.
Impaired acrosomal reaction (IAR) of sperm causes male subfertility in humans and animals. Despite compelling evidence about the genetic control over acrosome biogenesis and function, the genomics of IAR is as yet poorly understood, providing no molecular tools for diagnostics. Here we conducted Equine SNP50 Beadchip genotyping and GWAS using 7 IAR–affected and 37 control Thoroughbred stallions. A significant (P<6.75E-08) genotype–phenotype association was found in horse chromosome 13 in FK506 binding protein 6 (FKBP6). The gene belongs to the immunophilins FKBP family known to be involved in meiosis, calcium homeostasis, clathrin-coated vesicles, and membrane fusions. Direct sequencing of FKBP6 exons in cases and controls identified SNPs g.11040315G>A and g.11040379C>A (p.166H>N) in exon 4 that were significantly associated with the IAR phenotype both in the GWAS cohort (n = 44) and in a large multi-breed cohort of 265 horses. All IAR stallions were homozygous for the A-alleles, while this genotype was found only in 2% of controls. The equine FKBP6 was exclusively expressed in testis and sperm and had 5 different transcripts, of which 4 were novel. The expression of this gene in AC/AG heterozygous controls was monoallelic, and we observed a tendency for FKBP6 up-regulation in IAR stallions compared to controls. Because exon 4 SNPs had no effect on the protein structure, it is likely that FKBP6 relates to the IAR phenotype via regulatory or modifying functions. In conclusion, FKBP6 was considered a susceptibility gene of incomplete penetrance for IAR in stallions and a candidate gene for male subfertility in mammals. FKBP6 genotyping is recommended for the detection of IAR–susceptible individuals among potential breeding stallions. Successful use of sperm as a source of DNA and RNA propagates non-invasive sample procurement for fertility genomics in animals and humans.
Impaired acrosomal reaction (IAR) of sperm causes male subfertility in humans and animals, and currently the molecular causes of the condition are not known. Here we report the mapping, identification, and functional analysis of a susceptibility locus for IAR in stallions. The candidate region was mapped to horse chromosome 13 by SNP genotyping and GWAS of 7 IAR affected and 44 control Thoroughbred stallions. Re-sequencing and case-control analysis of functionally relevant candidate genes in the region identified FKBP6 gene as a significantly associated locus. The association was confirmed by genotyping 265 male horses of multiple breeds. FKBP6 belongs to the immunophilins FKBP family known to be involved in meiosis, calcium homeostasis, clathrin-coated vesicles, and membrane fusions. We showed that the equine FKBP6 is exclusively and monoallelically expressed in testis and sperm and has 5 different transcripts, of which 4 were novel. Overall, FKBP6 was considered a susceptibility gene of incomplete penetrance for IAR in stallions and a candidate gene for male subfertility in other mammals. Successful use of sperm as a source of DNA and RNA propagates non-invasive sample procurement for fertility genomics in animals and humans.
A wide variety of biochemical, physiological, and molecular processes are known to have daily rhythms driven by an endogenous circadian clock. While extensive research has greatly improved our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that constitute the circadian clock, the links between this clock and dependent processes have remained elusive. To address this gap in our knowledge, we have used RNA sequencing (RNA–seq) and DNA microarrays to systematically identify clock-controlled genes in the zebrafish pineal gland. In addition to a comprehensive view of the expression pattern of known clock components within this master clock tissue, this approach has revealed novel potential elements of the circadian timing system. We have implicated one rhythmically expressed gene, camk1gb, in connecting the clock with downstream physiology of the pineal gland. Remarkably, knockdown of camk1gb disrupts locomotor activity in the whole larva, even though it is predominantly expressed within the pineal gland. Therefore, it appears that camk1gb plays a role in linking the pineal master clock with the periphery.
The circadian clock is a molecular pacemaker that drives rhythmic expression of genes with a ∼24-hour period. As a result, many physiological processes have daily rhythms. Many of the conserved elements that constitute the circadian clock are known, but the links between the clock and dependent processes have remained elusive. With its amenability to genetic manipulations and a variety of genetic tools, the zebrafish has become an attractive vertebrate model for the quest to identify and characterize novel clock components. Here, we take advantage of another attraction of the zebrafish, the fact that its pineal gland is the site of a central clock which directly receives light input and autonomously generates circadian rhythms that affect the physiology of the whole organism. We show that the systematic design and analysis of genome-wide experiments based on the zebrafish pineal gland can lead to the discovery of new clock elements. We have characterized one novel element, camk1gb, and show that this gene, predominantly expressed within the pineal gland and driven by the circadian clock, links circadian clock timing with locomotor activity in zebrafish larvae.
Activation of γ-globin gene expression in adults is known to be therapeutic for sickle cell disease. Thus, it follows that the converse, alleviation of repression, would be equally effective, since the net result would be the same: an increase in fetal hemoglobin. A GATA-1-FOG-1-Mi2 repressor complex was recently demonstrated to be recruited to the −566 GATA motif of the Aγ-globin gene. We show that Mi2β is essential for γ-globin gene silencing using Mi2β conditional knockout β-YAC transgenic mice. In addition, increased expression of Aγ-globin was detected in adult blood from β-YAC transgenic mice containing a T>G HPFH point mutation at the −566 GATA silencer site. ChIP experiments demonstrated that GATA-1 is recruited to this silencer at day E16, followed by recruitment of FOG-1 and Mi2 at day E17 in wild-type β-YAC transgenic mice. Recruitment of the GATA-1–mediated repressor complex was disrupted by the −566 HPFH mutation at developmental stages when it normally binds. Our data suggest that a temporal repression mechanism is operative in the silencing of γ-globin gene expression and that either a trans-acting Mi2β knockout deletion mutation or the cis-acting −566 Aγ-globin HPFH point mutation disrupts establishment of repression, resulting in continued γ-globin gene transcription during adult definitive erythropoiesis.
Sickle cell disease (SCD) is one of the most common genetic diseases, affecting millions of people worldwide. SCD affects red blood cells' shape and renders them ineffective, resulting in anemia along with attendant complications. The disease is caused by a single point mutation in the coding sequence of the adult β-globin gene that changes normal adult hemoglobin (HbA) to sickle hemoglobin (HbS). Scientific evidence has demonstrated that continued expression of the fetal γ-globin genes (fetal hemoglobin, HbF), which are normally silenced after birth, is the best treatment for SCD, since the pathophysiology is largely ameliorated. Our therapeutic goal is to reactivate the γ-globin genes to substitute for the defective adult β-globin gene. We identified a novel γ-globin gene silencer sequence and demonstrated that a GATA-1-FOG-1-Mi2 repressor complex binds to this sequence and silences γ-globin synthesis. However, data regarding the requirement of Mi2 for silencing is controversial. We demonstrate that γ-globin synthesis increases as Mi2 expression decreases. We also show that repressor complex components assemble sequentially during development; completion of assembly coincides with γ-globin gene silencing. Disruption of either the repressor complex or mutation of its binding site induces γ-globin. Understanding this mechanism will reveal potential new targets for treating SCD.
The occurrence of melanism (darkening of the background coloration) is documented in 13 felid species, in some cases reaching high frequencies at the population level. Recent analyses have indicated that it arose multiple times in the Felidae, with three different species exhibiting unique mutations associated with this trait. The causative mutations in the remaining species have so far not been identified, precluding a broader assessment of the evolutionary dynamics of melanism in the Felidae. Among these, the leopard (Panthera pardus) is a particularly important target for research, given the iconic status of the ‘black panther’ and the extremely high frequency of melanism observed in some Asian populations. Another felid species from the same region, the Asian golden cat (Pardofelis temminckii), also exhibits frequent records of melanism in some areas. We have sequenced the coding region of the Agouti Signaling Protein (ASIP) gene in multiple leopard and Asian golden cat individuals, and identified distinct mutations strongly associated with melanism in each of them. The single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) detected among the P. pardus individuals was caused by a nonsense mutation predicted to completely ablate ASIP function. A different SNP was identified in P. temminckii, causing a predicted amino acid change that should also induce loss of function. Our results reveal two additional cases of species-specific mutations implicated in melanism in the Felidae, and indicate that ASIP mutations may play an important role in naturally-occurring coloration polymorphism.
Atrio-ventricular conduction disease is a common feature in Mendelian rhythm disorders associated with sudden cardiac death and is characterized by prolongation of the PR interval on the surface electrocardiogram (ECG). Prolongation of the PR interval is also a strong predictor of atrial fibrillation, the most prevalent sustained cardiac arrhythmia. Despite the significant genetic component in PR duration variability, the genes regulating PR interval duration remain largely elusive. We here aimed to dissect the quantitative trait locus (QTL) for PR interval duration that we previously mapped in murine F2 progeny of a sensitized 129P2 and FVBN/J cross. To determine the underlying gene responsible for this QTL, genome-wide transcriptional profiling was carried out on myocardial tissue from 109 F2 mice. Expression QTLs (eQTLs) were mapped and the PR interval QTL was inspected for the co-incidence of eQTLs. We further determined the correlation of each of these transcripts to the PR interval. Tnni3k was the only eQTL, mapping to the PR-QTL, with an established abundant cardiac-specific expression pattern and a significant correlation to PR interval duration. Genotype inspection in various inbred mouse strains revealed the presence of at least three independent haplotypes at the Tnni3k locus. Measurement of PR interval duration and Tnni3k mRNA expression levels in six inbred lines identified a positive correlation between the level of Tnni3k mRNA and PR interval duration. Furthermore, in DBA/2J mice overexpressing hTNNI3K, and in DBA.AKR.hrtfm2 congenic mice, which harbor the AKR/J “high-Tnni3k expression” haplotype in the DBA/2J genetic background, PR interval duration was prolonged as compared to DBA/2J wild-type mice (“low-Tnni3k expression” haplotype). Our data provide the first evidence for a role of Tnni3k in controlling the electrocardiographic PR interval indicating a function of Tnni3k in atrio-ventricular conduction.
Atrio-ventricular (AV) conduction disease (delay), characterized by prolongation of the PR interval on the surface electrocardiogram (ECG), is a common feature in Mendelian rhythm disorders and is associated with sudden cardiac death. Prolongation of the PR interval is also a strong predictor of atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common sustained cardiac arrhythmia. Although there is a substantial heritable component to the variability of the PR interval, the causative genes remain largely elusive. The identification of these genetic factors in the human population has been difficult owing to wide genetic heterogeneity and an uncontainable environment. We here exploited the homogeneous genetic background and controlled environment of inbred laboratory mouse strains to detect a genetic modifier of the PR interval. We identify Tnni3k as prime candidate for the modulation of the PR interval duration and suggest a new role for this gene, in the modulation of atrio-ventricular conduction.
RNA–binding proteins have emerged as causal agents of complex neurological diseases. Mice deficient for neuronal RNA–binding protein CELF4 have a complex neurological disorder with epilepsy as a prominent feature. Human CELF4 has recently been associated with clinical features similar to those seen in mutant mice. CELF4 is expressed primarily in excitatory neurons, including large pyramidal cells of the cerebral cortex and hippocampus, and it regulates excitatory but not inhibitory neurotransmission. We examined mechanisms underlying neuronal hyperexcitability in Celf4 mutants by identifying CELF4 target mRNAs and assessing their fate in the absence of CELF4 in view of their known functions. CELF4 binds to at least 15%–20% of the transcriptome, with striking specificity for the mRNA 3′ untranslated region. CELF4 mRNA targets encode a variety of proteins, many of which are well established in neuron development and function. While the overall abundance of these mRNA targets is often dysregulated in Celf4 deficient mice, the actual expression changes are modest at the steady-state level. In contrast, by examining the transcriptome of polysome fractions and the mRNA distribution along the neuronal cell body-neuropil axis, we found that CELF4 is critical for maintaining mRNA stability and availability for translation. Among biological processes associated with CELF4 targets that accumulate in neuropil of mutants, regulation of synaptic plasticity and transmission are the most prominent. Together with a related study of the impact of CELF4 loss on sodium channel Nav1.6 function, we suggest that CELF4 deficiency leads to abnormal neuronal function by combining a specific effect on neuronal excitation with a general impairment of synaptic transmission. These results also expand our understanding of the vital roles RNA–binding proteins play in regulating and shaping the activity of neural circuits.
Epilepsy is a devastating brain disorder whereby a loss of regulation of electrochemical signals between neurons causes too much excitation and ultimately results in an “electrical storm” known as a seizure. Epilepsy can be heritable, but it is usually genetically complex, resulting from a collaboration of many genes. It is also a frequent feature of other common brain diseases, such as autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, likely because these diseases have a similar dysregulation of neuronal communication. To understand more about how the brain regulates electrical activity, we focused on an RNA–binding protein called CELF4, because a) mice that lack CELF4 have a complex form of epilepsy that includes features of other neurological diseases and b) this kind of protein has the potential to be a master regulator. We show that CELF4 binds to a vast array of mRNAs, and without CELF4 these mRNAs accumulate in the wrong places and can produce the wrong amount of protein. Moreover, many of these mRNAs encode key players in electrochemical signaling between neurons. Although the defects in individual mRNAs are modest, like a genetically complex disease, together these alterations collude to cause neurological symptoms including recurrent seizures.
The seed maturation program only occurs during late embryogenesis, and repression of the program is pivotal for seedling development. However, the mechanism through which this repression is achieved in vegetative tissues is poorly understood. Here we report a microRNA (miRNA)–mediated repression mechanism operating in leaves. To understand the repression of the embryonic program in seedlings, we have conducted a genetic screen using a seed maturation gene reporter transgenic line in Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) for the isolation of mutants that ectopically express seed maturation genes in leaves. One of the mutants identified from the screen is a weak allele of ARGONAUTE1 (AGO1) that encodes an effector protein for small RNAs. We first show that it is the defect in the accumulation of miRNAs rather than other small RNAs that causes the ectopic seed gene expression in ago1. We then demonstrate that overexpression of miR166 suppresses the derepression of the seed gene reporter in ago1 and that, conversely, the specific loss of miR166 causes ectopic expression of seed maturation genes. Further, we show that ectopic expression of miR166 targets, type III homeodomain-leucine zipper (HD-ZIPIII) genes PHABULOSA (PHB) and PHAVOLUTA (PHV), is sufficient to activate seed maturation genes in vegetative tissues. Lastly, we show that PHB binds the promoter of LEAFY COTYLEDON2 (LEC2), which encodes a master regulator of seed maturation. Therefore, this study establishes a core module composed of a miRNA, its target genes (PHB and PHV), and the direct target of PHB (LEC2) as an underlying mechanism that keeps the seed maturation program off during vegetative development.
Seed development can be conceptually divided into two phases: namely the morphogenesis phase, in which cell division is active and all the major organs are formed, and the maturation phase, in which cells enlarge and storage reserves are synthesized and accumulated. Expression of the seed maturation program is tightly controlled such that it only occurs during the late phase of seed development. To uncover the molecular mechanisms underlying the repression of seed genes during vegetative development, we performed a reporter-assisted genetic screen, and one mutant identified is a weak allele of ARGONAUTE1 (AGO1) that displays ectopic seed gene expression. We then performed a series of transgenic and genetic analyses to search for the molecular mechanisms underlying the mutant phenotype. We first demonstrate that the decrease in miR166 in ago1 is a major cause of the mutant phenotype. Further, we show that the targets of miR166, type III HD-ZIP transcription factors PHB and PHV, are sufficient for derepressing seed maturation genes in seedlings, likely by binding directly to the promoter of a master regulator gene of maturation. Thus, this work establishes a miRNA–mediated pathway that represses the embryonic program and also establishes PHB/PHV as direct activators of the maturation program.
Pigmentation of the skin, hair, and eyes varies both within and between human populations. Identifying the genes and alleles underlying this variation has been the goal of many candidate gene and several genome-wide association studies (GWAS). Most GWAS for pigmentary traits to date have been based on subjective phenotypes using categorical scales. But skin, hair, and eye pigmentation vary continuously. Here, we seek to characterize quantitative variation in these traits objectively and accurately and to determine their genetic basis. Objective and quantitative measures of skin, hair, and eye color were made using reflectance or digital spectroscopy in Europeans from Ireland, Poland, Italy, and Portugal. A GWAS was conducted for the three quantitative pigmentation phenotypes in 176 women across 313,763 SNP loci, and replication of the most significant associations was attempted in a sample of 294 European men and women from the same countries. We find that the pigmentation phenotypes are highly stratified along axes of European genetic differentiation. The country of sampling explains approximately 35% of the variation in skin pigmentation, 31% of the variation in hair pigmentation, and 40% of the variation in eye pigmentation. All three quantitative phenotypes are correlated with each other. In our two-stage association study, we reproduce the association of rs1667394 at the OCA2/HERC2 locus with eye color but we do not identify new genetic determinants of skin and hair pigmentation supporting the lack of major genes affecting skin and hair color variation within Europe and suggesting that not only careful phenotyping but also larger cohorts are required to understand the genetic architecture of these complex quantitative traits. Interestingly, we also see that in each of these four populations, men are more lightly pigmented in the unexposed skin of the inner arm than women, a fact that is underappreciated and may vary across the world.
Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC) disease is a rare, genetic, lysosomal disorder with progressive neurodegeneration. Poor understanding of the pathophysiology and a lack of blood-based diagnostic markers are major hurdles in the treatment and management of NPC and several additional, neurological lysosomal disorders. To identify disease severity correlates, we undertook whole genome expression profiling of sentinel organs, brain, liver, and spleen of Balb/c Npc1−/− mice relative to Npc1+/− at an asymptomatic stage, as well as early- and late-symptomatic stages. Unexpectedly, we found prominent up regulation of innate immunity genes with age-dependent change in their expression, in all three organs. We shortlisted a set of 12 secretory genes whose expression steadily increased with age in both brain and liver, as potential plasma correlates of neurological and/or liver disease. Ten were innate immune genes with eight ascribed to lysosomes. Several are known to be elevated in diseased organs of murine models of other lysosomal diseases including Gaucher’s disease, Sandhoff disease and MPSIIIB. We validated the top candidate lysozyme, in the plasma of Npc1−/− as well as Balb/c Npc1nmf164 mice (bearing a point mutation closer to human disease mutants) and show its reduction in response to an emerging therapeutic. We further established elevation of innate immunity in Npc1−/− mice through multiple functional assays including inhibition of bacterial infection as well as cellular analysis and immunohistochemistry. These data revealed neutrophil elevation in the Npc1−/− spleen and liver (where large foci were detected proximal to damaged tissue). Together our results yield a set of lysosomal, secretory innate immunity genes that have potential to be developed as pan or specific plasma markers for neurological diseases associated with lysosomal storage and where diagnosis is a major problem. Further, the accumulation of neutrophils in diseased organs (hitherto not associated with NPC) suggests their role in pathophysiology and disease exacerbation.
Autosomal dominant neovascular inflammatory vitreoretinopathy (ADNIV) is an autoimmune condition of the eye that sequentially mimics uveitis, retinitis pigmentosa, and proliferative diabetic retinopathy as it progresses to complete blindness. We identified two different missense mutations in the CAPN5 gene in three ADNIV kindreds. CAPN5 encodes calpain-5, a calcium-activated cysteine protease that is expressed in retinal photoreceptor cells. Both mutations cause mislocalization from the cell membrane to the cytosol, and structural modeling reveals that both mutations lie within a calcium-sensitive domain near the active site. CAPN5 is only the second member of the large calpain gene family to cause a human Mendelian disorder, and this is the first report of a specific molecular cause for autoimmune eye disease. Further investigation of these mutations is likely to provide insight into the pathophysiologic mechanisms of common diseases ranging from autoimmune disorders to diabetic retinopathy.
We care for several families with an inherited form of autoimmune inflammation inside the eye. The patients also develop bleeding, scar tissue, and eventually blindness. Using advanced gene analysis methods, we discovered the cause of this disease is gene mutations in the CAPN5 gene. This gene makes a protein, calpain-5, which belongs to a family of calcium-activated enzymes that slice other proteins inside cells. Calpain-5 is expressed in the retina, and the disease mutations alter its location inside the cell. Future studies to understand how this protein causes inflammation and bleeding inside the eye will help us develop treatments for this condition and more common eye diseases with inflammation and bleeding.
Sensory hair cells are essential for hearing and balance. Their development from epithelial precursors has been extensively characterized with respect to transcriptional regulation, but not in terms of posttranscriptional influences. Here we report on the identification and functional characterization of an alternative-splicing regulator whose inactivation is responsible for defective hair-cell development, deafness, and impaired balance in the spontaneous mutant Bronx waltzer (bv) mouse. We used positional cloning and transgenic rescue to locate the bv mutation to the splicing factor-encoding gene Ser/Arg repetitive matrix 4 (Srrm4). Transcriptome-wide analysis of pre–mRNA splicing in the sensory patches of embryonic inner ears revealed that specific alternative exons were skipped at abnormally high rates in the bv mice. Minigene experiments in a heterologous expression system confirmed that these skipped exons require Srrm4 for inclusion into the mature mRNA. Sequence analysis and mutagenesis experiments showed that the affected transcripts share a novel motif that is necessary for the Srrm4-dependent alternative splicing. Functional annotations and protein–protein interaction data indicated that the encoded proteins cluster in the secretion and neurotransmission pathways. In addition, the splicing of a few transcriptional regulators was found to be Srrm4 dependent, and several of the genes known to be targeted by these regulators were expressed at reduced levels in the bv mice. Although Srrm4 expression was detected in neural tissues as well as hair cells, analyses of the bv mouse cerebellum and neocortex failed to detect splicing defects. Our data suggest that Srrm4 function is critical in the hearing and balance organs, but not in all neural tissues. Srrm4 is the first alternative-splicing regulator to be associated with hearing, and the analysis of bv mice provides exon-level insights into hair-cell development.
The identification of novel deafness-causing mutations has been instrumental in revealing unexpected mechanisms that are required for development of the sound- and gravity-sensing hair cells of the inner ear. The Bronx waltzer (bv) mouse is characterized by defects in hair-cell development, as well as by deafness and impaired balance. Here, we report on our identification of a mutation in the Ser/Arg repetitive matrix 4 (Srrm4) gene as the source of these defects. The encoded protein, Srrm4, belongs to a family of RNA splicing factors that regulate the inclusion of certain genetic information (i.e. alternative exons) into the transcribed RNA. We analyzed the molecular function of Srrm4 by comparing the exon composition of RNAs in the inner ear of bv and control mice. This approach revealed that, in the bv mice, specific alternative exons were omitted from protein-encoding RNAs. The affected transcripts shared two features: they contained a short sequence motif that was required for Srrm4-dependent splicing, and they encoded proteins that were related predominantly to secretion and neurotransmission. In addition, RNAs of a few gene expression regulators contained Srrm4-regulated exons. Our data suggest that Srrm4-dependent alternative splicing has a profound effect on the developmental program of hair cells.
A causative role for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in many genetic disorders has become evident through numerous genome-wide association studies. However, identification of these common causal variants and the molecular mechanisms underlying these associations remains a major challenge. Differential transcription factor binding at a SNP resulting in altered gene expression is one possible mechanism. Here we apply PWAS (“proteome-wide analysis of SNPs”), a methodology based on quantitative mass spectrometry that enables rapid screening of SNPs for differential transcription factor binding, to 12 SNPs that are highly associated with type 1 diabetes at the IL2RA locus, encoding the interleukin-2 receptor CD25. We report differential, allele-specific binding of the transcription factors RUNX1, LEF1, CREB, and TFAP4 to IL2RA SNPs rs12722508*A, rs12722522*C, rs41295061*A, and rs2104286*A and demonstrate the functional influence of RUNX1 at rs12722508 by reporter gene assay. Thus, PWAS may be able to contribute to our understanding of the molecular consequences of human genetic variability underpinning susceptibility to multi-factorial disease.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) are a powerful approach to identifying genes contributing to risk of disease. However, individual mapped single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) may not map close to a gene, and it can be difficult to distinguish marker SNPs from causal SNPs. Furthermore, the molecular mechanism responsible for disease association is usually not clear. Here we develop a method termed “proteome-wide analysis of SNPs” (PWAS) that identifies differentially binding transcription factors (TFs) and thereby helps to unravel the molecular mechanisms by which the SNPs may exert their effect on gene regulation. We use quantitative interaction proteomics to identify proteins with allele-specific binding. Applied to fine-mapped SNPs conferring risk in type 1 diabetes, PWAS revealed preferential binding of common transcription factors to certain disease-associated SNPs, suggesting they could be causal. In general, a proportion of causal SNPs are likely to function by mimicking binding motifs for transcription factors, increasing their occupancy and modulating gene expression. In addition, PWAS is streamlined and can be used as an informative follow-up approach to GWAS results.