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1.  Protective immunity induced by peptides of AMA1, RON2 and RON4 containing T-and B-cell epitopes via an intranasal route against toxoplasmosis in mice 
Parasites & Vectors  2015;8:15.
Toxoplasma gondii is a ubiquitous protozoan intracellular parasite, the causative agent of toxoplasmosis, and a worldwide zoonosis. Apical membrane antigen-1 (AMA1) and rhoptry neck protein (RON2, RON4) are involved in the invasion of T. gondii.
This study chemically synthesized peptides of TgAMA1, TgRON2 and TgRON4 that contained the T- and B-cell epitopes predicted by bioinformatics analysis. We evaluated the systemic response by proliferation, cytokine and antibody measurements as well as the mucosal response by examining the levels of antigen-specific secretory IgA (SIgA) in the nasal, vesical and intestinal washes obtained from mice after nasal immunization with single (AMA1, RON2, RON4) or mixtures of peptides (A1 + R2, A1 + R4, R2 + R4, A1 + R2 + R4). We also assessed the parasite burdens in the liver and brain as well as the survival of mice challenged with a virulent strain.
The results showed that the mice immunized with single or mixed peptides produced effective mucosal and systemic immune responses with a high level of specific antibody responses, a strong lymphoproliferative response and significant levels of gamma interferon (IFN-γ), interleukin-2 (IL-2) and IL-4 production. These mice also elicited partial protection against acute and chronic T. gondii infection. Moreover, our study indicated that mixtures of peptides, especially the A1 + R2 mixture, were more powerful and efficient than any other single peptides.
These results demonstrated that intranasal immunisation with peptides of AMA1, RON2 and RON4 containing T- and B-cell epitopes can partly protect mice against toxoplasmosis, and a combination of peptides as a mucosal vaccine strategy is essential for future Toxoplasma vaccine development.
PMCID: PMC4297402  PMID: 25582167
Toxoplasma gondii; AMA1; RON2; RON4; Peptide epitope; Mucosal vaccine
2.  Partial Protective Effect of Intranasal Immunization with Recombinant Toxoplasma gondii Rhoptry Protein 17 against Toxoplasmosis in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e108377.
Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) is an obligate intracellular protozoan parasite that infects a variety of mammals, including humans. An effective vaccine for this parasite is therefore needed. In this study, RH strain T. gondii rhoptry protein 17 was expressed in bacteria as a fusion with glutathione S-transferase (GST) and the recombinant proteins (rTgROP17) were purified via GST-affinity chromatography. BALB/c mice were nasally immunised with rTgROP17, and induction of immune responses and protection against chronic and lethal T. gondii infections were investigated. The results revealed that mice immunised with rTgROP17 produced high levels of specific anti-rTgROP17 IgGs and a mixed IgG1/IgG2a response of IgG2a predominance. The systemic immune response was associated with increased production of Th1 (IFN-γand IL-2) and Th2 (IL-4) cytokines, and enhanced lymphoproliferation (stimulation index, SI) in the mice immunised with rTgROP17. Strong mucosal immune responses with increased secretion of TgROP17-specific secretory IgA (SIgA) in nasal, vaginal and intestinal washes were also observed in these mice. The vaccinated mice displayed apparent protection against chronic RH strain infection as evidenced by their lower liver and brain parasite burdens (59.17% and 49.08%, respectively) than those of the controls. The vaccinated mice also exhibited significant protection against lethal infection of the virulent RH strain (survival increased by 50%) compared to the controls. Our data demonstrate that rTgROP17 can trigger strong systemic and mucosal immune responses against T. gondii and that ROP17 is a promising candidate vaccine for toxoplasmosis.
PMCID: PMC4177930  PMID: 25255141
3.  Intranasal Immunisation with Recombinant Toxoplasma gondii Actin Partly Protects Mice against Toxoplasmosis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e82765.
Toxoplasma gondii is a ubiquitous protozoan intracellular parasite, the causative agent of toxoplasmosis, and a worldwide zoonosis for which an effective vaccine is needed. Actin is a highly conserved microfilament protein that plays an important role in the invasion of host cells by T. gondii. This study investigated the immune responses elicited by BALB/c mice after nasal immunisation with a recombinant T. gondii actin (rTgACT) and the subsequent protection against chronic and lethal T. gondii infections. We evaluated the systemic response by proliferation, cytokine and antibody measurements, and we assessed the mucosal response by examining the levels of TgACT-specific secretory IgA (SIgA) in nasal, vaginal and intestinal washes. Parasite load was assessed in the liver and brain, and the survival of mice challenged with a virulent strain was determined. The results showed that the mice immunised with rTgACT developed high levels of specific anti-rTgACT IgG titres and a mixed IgG1/IgG2a response with a predominance of IgG2a. The systemic immune response was associated with increased production of Th1 (IFN-γ and IL-2), Th2 (IL-4) and Treg (IL-10) cytokines, indicating that not only Th1-type response was induced, but also Th2- and Treg-types responses were induced, and the splenocyte stimulation index (SI) was increased in the mice immunised with rTgACT. Nasal immunisation with rTgACT led to strong mucosal immune responses, as seen by the increased secretion of SIgA in nasal, vaginal and intestinal washes. The vaccinated mice displayed significant protection against lethal infection with the virulent RH strain (survival increased by 50%), while the mice chronically infected with RH exhibited lower liver and brain parasite loads (60.05% and 49.75%, respectively) than the controls. Our data demonstrate, for the first time, that actin triggers a strong systemic and mucosal response against T. gondii. Therefore, actin may be a promising vaccine candidate against toxoplasmosis.
PMCID: PMC3873923  PMID: 24386114
4.  Sorption of ammonium and phosphate from aqueous solution by biochar derived from phytoremediation plants*  
The study on biochar derived from plant biomass for environmental applications is attracting more and more attention. Twelve sets of biochar were obtained by treating four phytoremediation plants, Salix rosthornii Seemen, Thalia dealbata, Vetiveria zizanioides, and Phragmites sp., sequentially through pyrolysis at 500 °C in a N2 environment, and under different temperatures (500, 600, and 700 °C) in a CO2 environment. The cation exchange capacity and specific surface area of biochar varied with both plant species and pyrolysis temperature. The magnesium (Mg) content of biochar derived from T. dealbata (TC) was obviously higher than that of the other plant biochars. This biochar also had the highest sorption capacity for phosphate and ammonium. In terms of biomass yields, adsorption capacity, and energy cost, T. dealbata biochar produced at 600 °C (TC600) is the most promising sorbent for removing contaminants (N and P) from aqueous solution. Therefore, T. dealbata appears to be the best candidate for phytoremediation application as its biomass can make a good biochar for environmental cleaning.
PMCID: PMC3863373  PMID: 24302715
Biochar; Nutrient removal; Plant species; Pyrolysis temperature; Water quality
5.  Resveratrol Protects Mouse Oocytes from Methylglyoxal-Induced Oxidative Damage 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e77960.
Methylglyoxal, a reactive dicarbonyl compound, is mainly formed from glycolysis. Methylglyoxal can lead to the dysfunction of mitochondria, the depletion of cellular anti-oxidation enzymes and the formation of advanced glycation ends. Previous studies showed that the accumulation of methylglyoxal and advanced glycation ends can impair the oocyte maturation and reduce the oocyte quality in aged and diabetic females. In this study, we showed that resveratrol, a kind of phytoalexin found in the skin of grapes, red wine and other botanical extracts, can alleviate the adverse effects caused by methylglyoxal, such as inhibition of oocyte maturation and disruption of spindle assembly. Besides, methylglyoxal-treated oocytes displayed more DNA double strands breaks and this can also be decreased by treatment of resveratrol. Further investigation of these processes revealed that methylglyoxal may affect the oocyte quality by resulting in excessive reactive oxygen species production, aberrant mitochondrial distribution and high level lipid peroxidation, and resveratrol can block these cytotoxic changes. Collectively, our results showed that resveratrol can protect the oocytes from methylglyoxal-induced cytotoxicity and this was mainly through the correction of the abnormity of cellular reactive oxygen species metabolism.
PMCID: PMC3806792  PMID: 24194906
6.  Toxoplasma gondii Protein Disulfide Isomerase (TgPDI) Is a Novel Vaccine Candidate against Toxoplasmosis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e70884.
Toxoplasma gondii is a ubiquitous protozoan parasite that can infect all warm-blooded animals, including both mammals and birds. Protein disulfide isomerase (PDI) localises to the surface of T. gondii tachyzoites and modulates the interactions between parasite and host cells. In this study, the protective efficacy of recombinant T. gondii PDI (rTgPDI) as a vaccine candidate against T. gondii infection in BALB/c mice was evaluated. rTgPDI was expressed and purified from Escherichia coli. Five groups of animals (10 animals/group) were immunised with 10, 20, 30, 40 μg of rTgPDI per mouse or with PBS as a control group. All immunisations were performed via the nasal route at 1, 14 and 21 days. Two weeks after the last immunisation, the immune responses were evaluated by lymphoproliferative assays and by cytokine and antibody measurements. The immunised mice were challenged with tachyzoites of the virulent T. gondii RH strain on the 14th day after the last immunisation. Following the challenge, the tachyzoite loads in tissues were assessed, and animal survival time was recorded. Our results showed that the group immunised with 30 μg rTgPDI showed significantly higher levels of specific antibodies against the recombinant protein, a strong lymphoproliferative response and significantly higher levels of IgG2a, IFN-gamma (IFN-γ), IL-2 and IL-4 production compared with other doses and control groups. While no changes in IL-10 levels were detected. After being challenged with T. gondii tachyzoites, the numbers of tachyzoites in brain and liver tissues from the rTgPDI group were significantly reduced compared with those of the control group, and the survival time of the mice in the rTgPDI group was longer than that of mice in the control group. Our results showed that immunisation with rTgPDI elicited a protective immune reaction and suggested that rTgPDI might represent a promising vaccine candidate for combating toxoplasmosis.
PMCID: PMC3744524  PMID: 23967128
7.  Recent Structural and Mechanistic Insights into Endplate Acetylcholine Receptors 
Voluntary movement mediated by skeletal muscle relies on endplate acetylcholine receptors (AChR) to detect nerve-released ACh and depolarize themuscle fiber. Recent structural and mechanistic studies of the endplate AChR have catalyzed a leap in our understanding of the molecular steps in this chemical-to-electrical transduction process. Studies of acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP) give insight into ACh recognition, the first step in activation of the AChR. An atomic structural model of the Torpedo AChR at a resolution of 0.4 nm, together with single-ion channel recording methods, allow tracing of the link between the agonist binding event and gating of the ion channel, as well as determination of how the channel moves when it opens to allow flow of cations. Structural models of the human AChR enable precise mapping of disease-causing mutations, while studies of the speed with which single AChR channels open and close cast light on pathogenic mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3478106  PMID: 18567853
acetylcholine receptor; acetylcholine binding protein; agonist recognition; binding-gating coupling mechanism; congenital myasthenic syndrome
8.  Curariform Antagonists Bind in Different Orientations to Acetylcholine-binding Protein* 
The Journal of biological chemistry  2003;278(25):23020-23026.
Acetylcholine-binding protein (AChBP) recently emerged as a prototype for relating structure to function of the ligand binding domain of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs). To understand interactions of competitive antagonists at the atomic structural level, we studied binding of the curare derivatives d-tubocurarine (d-TC) and metocurine to AChBP using computational methods, mutagenesis, and ligand binding measurements. To account for protein flexibility, we used a 2-ns molecular dynamics simulation of AChBP to generate multiple snapshots of the equilibrated dynamic structure to which optimal docking orientations were determined. Our results predict a predominant docking orientation for both d-TC and metocurine, but unexpectedly, the bound orientations differ fundamentally for each ligand. At one subunit interface of AChBP, the side chain of Tyr-89 closely approaches a positively charged nitrogen in d-TC but is farther away from the equivalent nitrogen in metocurine, whereas, at the opposing interface, side chains of Trp-53 and Gln-55 closely approach the metocurine scaffold but not that of d-TC. The different orientations correspond to ~170° rotation and ~30° degree tilt of the curare scaffold within the binding pocket. Mutagenesis of binding site residues in AChBP, combined with measurements of ligand binding, confirms the different docking orientations. Thus structurally similar ligands can adopt distinct orientations at receptor binding sites, posing challenges for interpreting structure-activity relationships for many drugs.
PMCID: PMC3191914  PMID: 12682067
9.  On the Origin of Ion Selectivity in the Cys-Loop Receptor Family 
Agonist binding to Cys-loop receptors promotes a large transmembrane ion flux of several million cations or anions per second. To investigate structural bases for the rapid and charge-selective flux, we used all atom molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, X-ray crystallography, and single channel recording. MD simulations of the muscle nicotinic receptor, imbedded in a lipid bilayer with an applied transmembrane potential, reveal single cation translocation events during transient periods of channel hydration. During the simulation trajectory, cations paused for prolonged periods near several rings of anionic residues projecting from the lumen of the extracellular domain of the receptor, but subsequently the cation moved rapidly through the hydrophobic transmembrane region as the constituent alpha-helices exhibited back and forth rocking motions. Cocrystallization of acetylcholine binding protein with sulfate ions revealed coordination of five sulfates with residues from one of these charged rings; in cation-selective Cys-loop receptors this ring contains negatively charged residues, whereas in anion-selective receptors it contains positively charged residues. In the muscle nicotinic receptor, charge reversal of residues of this ring decreases unitary conductance by up to 80%. Thus in Cys-loop receptors, a series of charged rings along the ion translocation pathway concentrates hydrated ions relative to bulk solution, giving rise to charge selectivity, and then subtle motions of the hydrophobic transmembrane, coupled with transient periods of water filling, enable rapid ion flux.
PMCID: PMC3047408  PMID: 19728176
Cys-loop receptor family; Ion conductance and selectivity; Single channel recording; Acetylcholine binding protein; Molecular dynamics simulation
10.  Detection and Trapping of Intermediate States Priming Nicotinic Receptor Channel Opening 
Nature  2009;459(7245):451-454.
In the course of synaptic transmission in the brain and periphery, acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) rapidly transduce a chemical signal into an electrical impulse. The speed of transduction owes in large part to rapid ACh association and dissociation, implying a binding site relatively non-selective for small cations; selective transduction has been supposed to originate from the ability of ACh, over that of other organic cations, to trigger the subsequent channel opening step. However transitions to and from the open state were shown to be similar for agonists with widely different efficacies.1,2,3 Here, by studying mutant AChRs, we find that the ultimate closed to open transition is agonist-independent and preceded by two primed closed states; the first primed state elicits brief openings, whereas the second elicits long-lived openings. Long-lived openings and the associated primed state are detected in the absence and presence of agonist, and exhibit the same kinetic signatures under both conditions. By covalently locking the agonist binding sites in the bound conformation, we find that each site initiates a priming step. Thus a change in binding site conformation primes the AChR for channel opening in a process that enables selective activation by ACh while maximizing speed and efficiency of the biological response.
PMCID: PMC2712348  PMID: 19339970
11.  Bis(diethyl­enetriamine-κ3 N,N′,N′′)nickel(II) bis­(1,2-dicyanoethene-1,2-dithiolato-κ2 S,S′)nickel(II) 
The title compound, [Ni(C4H13N3)2][Ni(C4N2S2)2], has been synthesized by the reaction of Ni(ClO4)2·6H2O, diethyl­enetriamine (deta) and Na2[Ni(mnt)2] [mnt = maleonitrile­dithiol­ate(2-)] in methanol. The structure is composed of a [Ni(deta)2]2+ cation and a [Ni(mnt)2]2− anion. The coordination geometry of the NiII ion in the cation is slightly distorted octa­hedral, defined by six N atoms from two deta ligands, while the NiII ion in the anion is four-coordinated by four S atoms from two mnt ligands in a slightly distorted square-planar geometry. The cations and anions are connected by N—H⋯N hydrogen bonds.
PMCID: PMC2959400  PMID: 21201018
12.  Control of Cation Permeation through the Nicotinic Receptor Channel 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(2):e41.
We used molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to explore the transport of single cations through the channel of the muscle nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR). Four MD simulations of 16 ns were performed at physiological and hyperpolarized membrane potentials, with and without restraints of the structure, but all without bound agonist. With the structure unrestrained and a potential of −100 mV, one cation traversed the channel during a transient period of channel hydration; at −200 mV, the channel was continuously hydrated and two cations traversed the channel. With the structure restrained, however, cations did not traverse the channel at either membrane potential, even though the channel was continuously hydrated. The overall results show that cation selective transport through the nAChR channel is governed by electrostatic interactions to achieve charge selectivity, but ion translocation relies on channel hydration, facilitated by a trans-membrane field, coupled with dynamic fluctuations of the channel structure.
Author Summary
Communication between a cell and its environment relies on channel-forming proteins to provide a low energy pathway for ions to move in and out. Although channel-forming proteins are essential to all life forms, the atomic-scale mechanisms that enable ions to pass through the channel remain elusive due to the lack of experimental approaches to monitor the protein and ion in real time and at atomic resolution. A powerful alternative approach is molecular dynamics (MD) simulation based on the laws of physics applied to the increasing body of protein structures resolved at atomic resolution. Here we present all-atom MD simulations applied to the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) that initiates voluntary movement in skeletal muscle. By focusing on individual permeant cations, we find that selective cation translocation occurs in stages: cations are first selected through a series of oppositely charged residues within the protein vestibule leading to a narrow hydrophobic constriction, but then hydration of the narrow region and dynamic fluctuations of the protein enable the cation to pass through. The findings provide a general framework for understanding how ions are selected for transport based on charge, and how the dynamic interplay between water, the ion, and the channel protein enable rapid ion translocation through the broad class of channel-forming proteins with hydrophobic barriers.
PMCID: PMC2242826  PMID: 18282090
13.  Naturally Occurring Mutations at the Acetylcholine Receptor Binding Site Independently Alter ACh Binding and Channel Gating 
The Journal of General Physiology  2002;120(4):483-496.
By defining functional defects in a congenital myasthenic syndrome (CMS), we show that two mutant residues, located in a binding site region of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) epsilon subunit, exert opposite effects on ACh binding and suppress channel gating. Single channel kinetic analysis reveals that the first mutation, ɛN182Y, increases ACh affinity for receptors in the resting closed state, which promotes sequential occupancy of the binding sites and discloses rate constants for ACh occupancy of the nonmutant αδ site. Studies of the analogous mutation in the δ subunit, δN187Y, disclose rate constants for ACh occupancy of the nonmutant αɛ site. The second CMS mutation, ɛD175N, reduces ACh affinity for receptors in the resting closed state; occupancy of the mutant site still promotes gating because a large difference in affinity is maintained between closed and open states. ɛD175N impairs overall gating, however, through an effect independent of ACh occupancy. When mapped on a structural model of the AChR binding site, ɛN182Y localizes to the interface with the α subunit, and ɛD175 to the entrance of the ACh binding cavity. Both ɛN182Y and ɛD175 show state specificity in affecting closed relative to desensitized state affinities, suggesting that the protein chain harboring ɛN182 and ɛD175 rearranges in the course of receptor desensitization. The overall results show that key residues at the ACh binding site differentially stabilize the agonist bound to closed, open and desensitized states, and provide a set point for gating of the channel.
PMCID: PMC2229537  PMID: 12356851
congenital myasthenic syndrome; single channel kinetics; agonist binding; channel gating; mutation analysis
14.  Fundamental Gating Mechanism of Nicotinic Receptor Channel Revealed by Mutation Causing a Congenital Myasthenic Syndrome 
The Journal of General Physiology  2000;116(3):449-462.
We describe the genetic and kinetic defects in a congenital myasthenic syndrome due to the mutation εA411P in the amphipathic helix of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) ε subunit. Myasthenic patients from three unrelated families are either homozygous for εA411P or are heterozygous and harbor a null mutation in the second ε allele, indicating that εA411P is recessive. We expressed human AChRs containing wild-type or A411P ε subunits in 293HEK cells, recorded single channel currents at high bandwidth, and determined microscopic rate constants for individual channels using hidden Markov modeling. For individual wild-type and mutant channels, each rate constant distributes as a Gaussian function, but the spread in the distributions for channel opening and closing rate constants is greatly expanded by εA411P. Prolines engineered into positions flanking residue 411 of the ε subunit greatly increase the range of activation kinetics similar to εA411P, whereas prolines engineered into positions equivalent to εA411 in β and δ subunits are without effect. Thus, the amphipathic helix of the ε subunit stabilizes the channel, minimizing the number and range of kinetic modes accessible to individual AChRs. The findings suggest that analogous stabilizing structures are present in other ion channels, and possibly allosteric proteins in general, and that they evolved to maintain uniformity of activation episodes. The findings further suggest that the fundamental gating mechanism of the AChR channel can be explained by a corrugated energy landscape superimposed on a steeply sloped energy well.
PMCID: PMC2233692  PMID: 10962020
congenital myasthenic syndrome; single channel kinetics; hidden Markov modeling; channel gating; energy landscape
15.  Mutation in the M1 Domain of the Acetylcholine Receptor α Subunit Decreases the Rate of Agonist Dissociation  
The Journal of General Physiology  1997;109(6):757-766.
We describe the kinetic consequences of the mutation N217K in the M1 domain of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) α subunit that causes a slow channel congenital myasthenic syndrome (SCCMS). We previously showed that receptors containing αN217K expressed in 293 HEK cells open in prolonged activation episodes strikingly similar to those observed at the SCCMS end plates. Here we use single channel kinetic analysis to show that the prolonged activation episodes result primarily from slowing of the rate of acetylcholine (ACh) dissociation from the binding site. Rate constants for channel opening and closing are also slowed but to much smaller extents. The rate constants derived from kinetic analysis also describe the concentration dependence of receptor activation, revealing a 20-fold shift in the EC50 to lower agonist concentrations for αN217K. The apparent affinity of ACh binding, measured by competition against the rate of 125I-α-bungarotoxin binding, is also enhanced 20-fold by αN217K. Both the slowing of ACh dissociation and enhanced apparent affinity are specific to the lysine substitution, as the glutamine and glutamate substitutions have no effect. Substituting lysine for the equivalent asparagine in the β, ε, or δ subunits does not affect the kinetics of receptor activation or apparent agonist affinity. The results show that a mutation in the amino-terminal portion of the M1 domain produces a localized perturbation that stabilizes agonist bound to the resting state of the AChR.
PMCID: PMC2217038  PMID: 9222901
single channel kinetics; acetylcholine binding site

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