Twenty five years after the discovery of HIV as the cause of AIDS, there is still no effective vaccine and no cure for this disease. HIV susceptibility shows a substantial degree of individual heterogeneity, much of which can be conferred by host genetic variation. In an effort to discover host factors required for HIV replication, identify critical pathogenic pathways, and reveal the full armament of host defenses, there has been a shift from candidate gene studies to unbiased genome wide genetic and functional studies. However, the number of securely identified host factors involved in HIV disease remains small, explaining only ~15–20% of the observed heterogeneity – most of which is attributable to HLA. Multidisciplinary approaches integrating genetic epidemiology to systems biology will be required to fully understand viral-host interactions to effectively combat HIV/AIDS.
Although sequencing a single human genome was a monumental effort a decade ago, more than one thousand genomes have now been sequenced. The task ahead lies in transforming this information into personalized treatment strategies that are tailored to the unique genetics of each individual. One important aspect of personalized medicine is patient-to-patient variation in drug response. Pharmacogenomics addresses this issue by seeking to identify genetic contributors to human variation in drug efficacy and toxicity. Here, we present a summary of the current status of this field, which has evolved from studies of single candidate genes to comprehensive genome-wide analyses. Additionally, we discuss the major challenges in translating this knowledge into a systems-level understanding of drug physiology with the ultimate goal of developing more effective personalized clinical treatment strategies.
Pharmacogenomics; genome-wide association studies; next-generation sequencing; 1000 genome project; personalized medicine
Antisense RNA; epigenetics; transcriptome; chromatin; ncRNAs; NATs
Understanding the origins of normal and pathological behavior is one of the most exciting opportunities in contemporary biomedical research. There is increasing evidence that, in addition to DNA sequence and the environment, epigenetic modifications of DNA and histone proteins may contribute to complex phenotypes. Inherited and/or acquired epigenetic factors are partially stable and have regulatory roles in numerous genomic activities, thus making epigenetics a promising research path in etiological studies of psychiatric disease. In this article, we review recent epigenetic studies examining the brain and other tissues, including those from individuals affected with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. We also highlight heuristic aspects of the epigenetic theory of psychiatric disease and discuss the future directions of psychiatric epigenetics.
Epigenetics; DNA methylation; histone modifications; schizophrenia; bipolar disorder; epigenome-wide association study
lamins; progerin; laminopathies; HGPS
The ability to generate a massive amount of sequencing and genotyping data is transforming the study of human genetic disorders. Driven by such innovation, it is likely that whole exome and whole-genome resequencing will replace regionally focused approaches for gene discovery and clinical testing in the next few years. However, this opportunity brings a significant interpretative challenge to assigning function and phenotypic variance to common and rare alleles. Understanding the effect of individual mutations in the context of the remaining genomic variation represents a major challenge to our interpretation of disease. Here, we discuss the challenges of assigning mutation functionality and, drawing from the examples of ciliopathies as well as cohesinopathies and channelopathies, discuss possibilities for the functional modularization of the human genome. Functional modularization in addition to the development of physiologically-relevant assays to test allele functionality will accelerate our understanding of disease architecture and enable the use of genome-wide sequence data for disease diagnosis and phenotypic prediction in individuals.
Several independent lines of evidence suggest that the modern genetic system was preceded by the ‘RNA world’ in which RNA genes encoded RNA catalysts. Current gaps in our conceptual framework of early genetic systems make it difficult to imagine how a stable RNA genome may have functioned and how the transition to a DNA genome could have taken place. Here we use the single-celled ciliate, Oxytricha, as an analog to some of the genetic and genomic traits that may have been present in organisms before and during the establishment of a DNA genome. Oxytricha and its close relatives have a unique genome architecture involving two differentiated nuclei, one of which encodes the genome on small, linear nanochromosomes. While its unique genomic characteristics are relatively modern, some physiological processes related to the genomes and nuclei of Oxytricha may exemplify primitive states of the developing genetic system.
The temporal organization of DNA replication has puzzled cell biologists since before the mechanism of replication was understood. The realization that replication timing correlates with important features, such as transcription, chromatin structure and genome evolution, and is misregulated in cancer and aging has only deepened the fascination. Many ideas about replication timing have been proposed, but most have been short on mechanistic detail. However, recent work has begun to elucidate basic principles of replication timing. In particular, mathematical modeling of replication kinetics in several systems has shown that the reproducible replication timing patterns seen in population studies can be explained by stochastic origin firing at the single-cell level. This work suggests that replication timing need not be controlled by a hierarchical mechanism that imposes replication timing from a central regulator, but instead results from simple rules that affect individual origins.
DNA replication timing; stochastic models; replication initiation; ORC; MCM
Human tumors result from an evolutionary process operating on somatic cells within tissues, whereby natural selection operates on the phenotypic variability generated by the accumulation of genetic, genomic and epigenetic alterations. This somatic evolution leads to adaptations such as increased proliferative, angiogenic, and invasive phenotypes. In this review we outline how cancer genomes are beginning to be investigated from an evolutionary perspective. We describe recent progress in the cataloging of somatic genetic and genomic alterations, and investigate the contributions of germline as well as epigenetic factors to cancer genome evolution. Finally, we outline the challenges facing researchers who investigate the processes driving the evolution of the cancer genome.
Nuclear noncoding RNA (ncRNA) surveillance pathways play key roles in shaping the steady-state transcriptomes of eukaryotic cells. Defective and unneeded ncRNAs are primarily degraded by exoribonucleases that rely on protein cofactors to identify these RNAs. Recent studies have begun to elucidate both the mechanisms by which these cofactors recognize aberrant RNAs and the features that mark RNAs for degradation. One crucial RNA determinant is the presence of an accessible end, and the failure of aberrant RNAs to fold into compact structures and assemble with specific binding proteins likely also contributes to their recognition and subsequent degradation. To date, ncRNA surveillance has been most extensively studied in budding yeast. However, mammalian cells possess nucleases and cofactors that have no known yeast counterparts, indicating that RNA surveillance pathways may be more complex in metazoans. Importantly, there is evidence that the failure of ncRNA surveillance pathways contributes to human disease.
noncoding RNA quality control; RNA degradation; oligoadenylation; TRAMP complex; exoribonucleases
Genome-wide data sets are increasingly being used to identify biological pathways and networks underlying complex diseases. In particular, analyzing genomic data through sets defined by functional pathways offers the potential of greater power for discovery and natural connections to biological mechanisms. With the burgeoning availability of next-generation sequencing, this is an opportune moment to revisit strategies for pathway-based analysis of genomic data. Here, we synthesize relevant concepts and extant methodologies to guide investigators in study design and execution. We also highlight ongoing challenges and proposed solutions. As relevant analytical strategies mature, pathways and networks will be ideally placed to integrate data from diverse -omics sources in order to harness the extensive, rich information related to disease and treatment mechanisms.
pathway analysis; gene set; enrichment methods; genome-wide association study; functional annotation; complex diseases
Coordinated regulation of gene expression relies on transcription factors
(TFs) binding to specific DNA sites. Our large-scale information-theoretic
analysis of >950 TF-binding motifs demonstrates that prokaryotes and
eukaryotes use strikingly different strategies to target TFs to specific genome
locations. Although bacterial TFs can recognize a specific DNA site in the
genomic background, eukaryotic TFs exhibit widespread, nonfunctional binding and
require clustering of sites to achieve specificity. We find support for this
mechanism in a range of experimental studies and in our evolutionary analysis of
DNA-binding domains. Our systematic characterization of binding motifs provides
a quantitative assessment of the differences in transcription regulation in
prokaryotes and eukaryotes.
Trinucleotide repeat expansion underlies at least 17 neurologic diseases. In affected individuals, the expanded locus is characterized by dramatic changes in chromatin structure and in repeat tract length. Interestingly, recent studies show that several chromatin modifiers, including a histone acetyltransferase, a DNA methyltransferase, and the transcription factor CTCF can modulate repeat instability. Here, we propose that the unusual chromatin structure of expanded repeats directly impacts their instability. We discuss several potential models for how this might occur, including a role for DNA repair-dependent epigenetic reprogramming in increasing repeat instability, and the capacity of epigenetic marks to alter sense and antisense transcription, thereby affecting repeat instability.
Coronary artery disease; genome-wide association; mouse atherosclerosis; myocardial infarction; plasma lipoproteins; systems genetics
RNA Polymerase II (Pol II) must break the nucleosomal barrier to gain access to DNA and efficiently transcribe genes. New single molecule techniques have elucidated many molecular details of nucleosome disassembly and what happens once Pol II encounters a nucleosome. . Our review highlights mechanisms that Pol II utilizes to transcribe through nucleosomes, including the roles of chromatin remodelers, histone chaperones, post-translational modifications of histones, incorporation of histone variants into nucleosomes, and activation of the Poly(ADP-Ribose) Polymerase enzyme. Future studies need to assess the molecular details and the contribution of each of these mechanisms, individually and in combination, to transcription across the genome to understand how cells are able to regulate transcription in response to developmental, environmental, and nutritional cues.
Chromatin; Transcription; Chromatin Remodelers; Histone Variants; Histone Post-Translational Modification; Poly(ADP-Ribose) Polymerase
Over the past decade, the ubiquity of copy number variants (CNVs, the gain or loss of genomic material) in the genomes of healthy humans has become apparent. Although some of these variants are associated with disorders, a handful of studies documented an adaptive advantage conferred by CNVs. In this review, we propose that CNVs are substrates for human evolution and adaptation. We discuss the possible mechanisms and evolutionary processes in which CNVs are selected, outline the current challenges in identifying these loci, and highlight that copy number variable regions allow for the creation of novel genes that may diversify the repertoire of such genes in response to rapidly changing environments. We expect that many more adaptive CNVs will be discovered in the coming years, and we believe that these new findings will contribute to our understanding of human-specific phenotypes.
copy number variation; adaptation; human evolution
Theory predicts that stress is a key factor in explaining the evolutionary role of sex in facultatively sexual organisms, including microorganisms. Organisms capable of reproducing both sexually and asexually are expected to mate more frequently when stressed, and such stress-induced mating is predicted to facilitate adaptation. Here, we propose that stress has an analogous effect on the parasexual cycle in Candida albicans, which involves alternation of generations between diploid and tetraploid cells. The parasexual cycle can generate high levels of diversity, including aneuploidy, yet it apparently occurs only rarely in nature. We review the evidence that stress facilitates four major steps in the parasexual cycle, and suggest that parasex ensues much more frequently under stress conditions. This may explain both the evolutionary significance of parasex and its apparent rarity.
Centromeres, and the kinetochores that assemble on them, are essential for accurate chromosome segregation. Diverse centromere organization patterns and kinetochore structures have evolved in eukaryotes ranging from yeast to humans. In addition, centromere DNA and kinetochore position can vary even within individual cells. This flexibility manifests in several ways: centromere DNA sequences evolve rapidly, kinetochore positions shift in response to altered chromosome structure, and kinetochore complex numbers change in response to fluctuations in kinetochore protein levels. Despite their differences, all of these diverse structures promote efficient chromosome segregation. This robustness is inherent to chromosome segregation mechanisms and balances genome stability with adaptability. In this review, we explore the mechanisms and consequences of centromere and kinetochore flexibility as well as the benefits and limitations of different experimental model systems for studying them.
centromere; neocentromere; kinetochore; aneuploidy; genome stability
Complex regulatory networks orchestrate most cellular processes in biological systems. Genes in such networks are subject to expression noise, resulting in isogenic cell populations exhibiting cell-to-cell variation in protein levels. Increasing evidence suggests that cells have evolved regulatory strategies to limit, tolerate, or amplify expression noise. In this context, fundamental questions arise: how can the architecture of gene regulatory networks generate, make use of, or be constrained by expression noise? Here, we discuss the interplay between expression noise and gene regulatory network at different levels of organization, ranging from a single regulatory interaction to entire regulatory networks. We then consider how this interplay impacts a variety of phenomena such as pathogenicity, disease, adaptation to changing environments, differential cell-fate outcome and incomplete or partial penetrance effects. Finally, we highlight recent technological developments that permit measurements at the single-cell level, and discuss directions for future research.
expression noise; gene regulatory network; persistence; phenotypic variation; single-cell analysis; differentiation and development
Reproduction is directly connected to the suite of developmental and physiological mechanisms that enable it, but how it occurs also has consequences for the genetics, ecology, and longer-term evolutionary potential of a lineage. In the nematode C. elegans, anatomically female XX worms can self-fertilize their eggs. This ability evolved recently and in multiple Caenorhabditis lineages from male-female ancestors, providing a model for examining both the developmental causes and longer-term consequences of a novel, convergently evolved reproductive mode. Here we review recent work that implicates translation control in the evolution of XX spermatogenesis, with different selfing lineages possessing both reproducible and idiosyncratic features. We also discuss the consequences of selfing, which leads to a rapid loss of variation and relaxation of natural and sexual selection on mating-related traits, and may ultimately put selfing lineages at a higher risk of extinction.
C. elegans; C. briggsae; hermaphrodite; self-fertility; germ line; convergent evolution
The removal by splicing of introns from the primary transcripts of most mammalian genes is an essential step in gene expression. Splicing is performed by large, complex ribonucleoprotein particles called spliceosomes. Mammals contain two types that splice out mutually exclusive types of introns. However, the role of the minor spliceosome has been poorly studied. Recent reports have now shown that mutations in one minor spliceosomal snRNA, U4atac, are linked to a rare autosomal recessive developmental defect. In addition, very exciting recent results of exome deep sequencing have found that recurrent, somatic, heterozygous mutations of other splicing factors occur at high frequencies in certain cancers and pre-cancerous conditions suggesting that alterations in the core splicing machinery can contribute to tumorigenesis. Missplicing of critical genes may underlie the pathologies of both these diseases. Identifying these genes and understanding the mechanisms involved in their missplicing may lead to advancements in diagnosis and treatment.
Most animals are sexually dimorphic, yet different taxa have different sex-specific traits. Despite major differences in the genetic control of sexual development among animal lineages, the Dmrt family of transcription factors has been shown to be involved in sex-specific differentiation in all animals studied so far. In recent years, the functions of Dmrt genes have been characterized in many animal groups, opening the way for a broad comparative perspective. In this review, I focus on the similarities and differences in the functions of Dmrt genes across the animal kingdom. I highlight a number of common themes in the sexual development of different taxa, discuss how Dmrt genes have acquired new roles during animal evolution, and show how they contributed to the origin of novel sex-specific traits.
Research using Xenopus takes advantage of large, abundant eggs, and readily manipulated embryos in addition to conserved cellular, developmental and genomic organization with mammals. Research on Xenopus has defined key principles of gene regulation and signal transduction, embryonic induction, morphogenesis and patterning as well as cell cycle regulation. Genomic and genetic advances in this system, including development of Xenopus tropicalis as a genetically tractable complement to the widely used Xenopus laevis, capitalize on the classical strengths and wealth of achievements. These attributes provide the tools to tackle the complex biological problems of the new century, including cellular reprogramming, organogenesis, regeneration, gene regulatory networks and protein interactions controlling growth and development, all of which provide insights into a multitude of human diseases and their potential treatments.
The 20th century theory of mammalian sex determination states that the embryo is sexually indifferent until the differentiation of gonads, after which sex differences in phenotype are caused by differential effects of gonadal hormones. That theory is inadequate because some sex differences precede differentiation of the gonads and/or are determined by non-gonadal effects of the sexual inequality in number and type of sex chromosomes. A general theory of sex determination is proposed, which recognizes multiple parallel primary sex-determining pathways initiated by genes or factors encoded by the sex chromosomes. The separate sex-specific pathways interact to synergize with or antagonize each other, enhancing or reducing sex differences in phenotype.