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1.  Consensus between Pipelines in Structural Brain Networks 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e111262.
Structural brain networks may be reconstructed from diffusion MRI tractography data and have great potential to further our understanding of the topological organisation of brain structure in health and disease. Network reconstruction is complex and involves a series of processesing methods including anatomical parcellation, registration, fiber orientation estimation and whole-brain fiber tractography. Methodological choices at each stage can affect the anatomical accuracy and graph theoretical properties of the reconstructed networks, meaning applying different combinations in a network reconstruction pipeline may produce substantially different networks. Furthermore, the choice of which connections are considered important is unclear. In this study, we assessed the similarity between structural networks obtained using two independent state-of-the-art reconstruction pipelines. We aimed to quantify network similarity and identify the core connections emerging most robustly in both pipelines. Similarity of network connections was compared between pipelines employing different atlases by merging parcels to a common and equivalent node scale. We found a high agreement between the networks across a range of fiber density thresholds. In addition, we identified a robust core of highly connected regions coinciding with a peak in similarity across network density thresholds, and replicated these results with atlases at different node scales. The binary network properties of these core connections were similar between pipelines but showed some differences in atlases across node scales. This study demonstrates the utility of applying multiple structural network reconstrution pipelines to diffusion data in order to identify the most important connections for further study.
PMCID: PMC4214749  PMID: 25356977
2.  Brain volume estimation from post-mortem newborn and fetal MRI 
NeuroImage : Clinical  2014;6:438-444.
Minimally invasive autopsy using post-mortem magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a valid alternative to conventional autopsy in fetuses and infants. Estimation of brain weight is an integral part of autopsy, but manual segmentation of organ volumes on MRI is labor intensive and prone to errors, therefore unsuitable for routine clinical practice. In this paper we aim to show that volumetric measurements of the post-mortem fetal and neonatal brain can be accurately estimated using semi-automatic techniques and a high correlation can be found with the weights measured from conventional autopsy results.
The brains of 17 newborn subjects, part of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Autopsy Study (MaRIAS), were segmented from post-mortem MR images into cerebrum, cerebellum and brainstem using a publicly available neonate brain atlas and semi-automatic segmentation algorithm. The results of the segmentation were averaged to create a new atlas, which was then used for the automated atlas-based segmentation of 17 MaRIAS fetus subjects. As validation, we manually segmented the MR images from 8 subjects of each cohort and compared them with the automatic ones. The semi-automatic estimation of cerebrum weight was compared with the results of the conventional autopsy.
The Dice overlaps between the manual and automatic segmentations are 0.991 and 0.992 for cerebrum, 0.873 and 0.888 for cerebellum and 0.819 and 0.815 for brainstem, for newborns and fetuses, respectively. Excellent agreement was obtained between the estimated MR weights and autopsy gold standard ones: mean absolute difference of 5 g and 2% maximum error for the fetus cohort and mean absolute difference of 20 g and 11% maximum error for the newborn one.
The high correlation between the obtained segmentation and autopsy weights strengthens the idea of using post-mortem MRI as an alternative for conventional autopsy of the brain.
•We segment the cerebrum of 17 newborns and 17 fetuses from postmortem MR.•There is high correlation between the autopsy and MR segmentation brain volumes.•Postmortem MR can be a non-invasive alternative to conventional autopsy of infants.
PMCID: PMC4218943  PMID: 25379457
CI, confidence interval; CSF, cerebrospinal fluid; EM, expectation maximization; GA, gestational age; GW, gestational weeks; MaRIAS, Magnetic Resonance Imaging Autopsy Study; MRI, magnetic resonance imaging; Post-mortem MRI; Newborn; Fetus; Brain volumes; Autopsy; Cerebrum
4.  CBP and p300 acetylate PCNA to link its degradation with nucleotide excision repair synthesis 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(13):8433-8448.
The proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) protein serves as a molecular platform recruiting and coordinating the activity of factors involved in multiple deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) transactions. To avoid dangerous genome instability, it is necessary to prevent excessive retention of PCNA on chromatin. Although PCNA functions during DNA replication appear to be regulated by different post-translational modifications, the mechanism regulating PCNA removal and degradation after nucleotide excision repair (NER) is unknown. Here we report that CREB-binding protein (CBP), and less efficiently p300, acetylated PCNA at lysine (Lys) residues Lys13,14,77 and 80, to promote removal of chromatin-bound PCNA and its degradation during NER. Mutation of these residues resulted in impaired DNA replication and repair, enhanced the sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation, and prevented proteolytic degradation of PCNA after DNA damage. Depletion of both CBP and p300, or failure to load PCNA on DNA in NER deficient cells, prevented PCNA acetylation and degradation, while proteasome inhibition resulted in accumulation of acetylated PCNA. These results define a CBP and p300-dependent mechanism for PCNA acetylation after DNA damage, linking DNA repair synthesis with removal of chromatin-bound PCNA and its degradation, to ensure genome stability.
PMCID: PMC4117764  PMID: 24939902
5.  The histone variant H2A.Bbd is enriched at sites of DNA synthesis 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(10):6405-6420.
Histone variants play an important role in shaping the mammalian epigenome and their aberrant expression is frequently observed in several types of cancer. However, the mechanisms that mediate their function and the composition of the variant-containing chromatin are still largely unknown. A proteomic interrogation of chromatin containing the different H2A variants macroH2A.1.2, H2A.Bbd and H2A revealed a strikingly different protein composition. Gene ontology analysis reveals a strong enrichment of splicing factors as well as components of the mammalian replisome in H2A.Bbd-containing chromatin. We find H2A.Bbd localizing transiently to sites of DNA synthesis during S-phase and during DNA repair. Cells that express H2A.Bbd have a shortened S-phase and are more susceptible to DNA damage, two phenotypes that are also observed in human Hodgkin's lymphoma cells that aberrantly express this variant. Based on our experiments we conclude that H2A.Bbd is targeted to newly synthesized DNA during replication and DNA repair. The transient incorporation of H2A.Bbd may be due to the intrinsic instability of nucleosomes carrying this variant or a faster chromatin loading. This potentially leads to a disturbance of the existing chromatin structure, which may have effects on cell cycle regulation and DNA damage sensitivity.
PMCID: PMC4041467  PMID: 24753410
6.  A CENP-S/X complex assembles at the centromere in S and G2 phases of the human cell cycle 
Open Biology  2014;4(2):130229.
The functional identity of centromeres arises from a set of specific nucleoprotein particle subunits of the centromeric chromatin fibre. These include CENP-A and histone H3 nucleosomes and a novel nucleosome-like complex of CENPs -T, -W, -S and -X. Fluorescence cross-correlation spectroscopy and Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) revealed that human CENP-S and -X exist principally in complex in soluble form and retain proximity when assembled at centromeres. Conditional labelling experiments show that they both assemble de novo during S phase and G2, increasing approximately three- to fourfold in abundance at centromeres. Fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) measurements documented steady-state exchange between soluble and assembled pools, with CENP-X exchanging approximately 10 times faster than CENP-S (t1/2 ∼ 10 min versus 120 min). CENP-S binding to sites of DNA damage was quite distinct, with a FRAP half-time of approximately 160 s. Fluorescent two-hybrid analysis identified CENP-T as a uniquely strong CENP-S binding protein and this association was confirmed by FRET, revealing a centromere-bound complex containing CENP-S, CENP-X and CENP-T in proximity to histone H3 but not CENP-A. We propose that deposition of the CENP-T/W/S/X particle reveals a kinetochore-specific chromatin assembly pathway that functions to switch centromeric chromatin to a mitosis-competent state after DNA replication. Centromeres shuttle between CENP-A-rich, replication-competent and H3-CENP-T/W/S/X-rich mitosis-competent compositions in the cell cycle.
PMCID: PMC3938055  PMID: 24522885
centromere; mitosis; constitutive centromere-associated network; kinetochore
7.  Unroofed coronary sinus in a patient with neurofibromatosis type 1 
Revista Paulista de Pediatria  2013;31(4):546-549.
To report the uncommon association between neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) and unroofed coronary sinus.
Girl with four years and six months old who was hospitalized for heart surgery. The cardiac problem was discovered at four months of life. On physical examination, the patient presented several café-au-lait spots in the trunk and the limbs and freckling of the axillary and groin regions. Her father had similar skin findings, suggesting the NF1 diagnosis. The cardiac evaluation by echocardiography disclosed an atrial septal defect of unroofed coronary sinus type. This cardiac finding was confirmed at surgery. The procedure consisted of the atrial septal defect repair with autologous pericardium.
NF1 is a common autosomal dominant disorder caused by mutations in the NF1 gene. Among the NF1 findings, congenital heart defects are considered unusual. In the literature review, there was no association between NF1 and unroofed coronary sinus, which is a rare cardiac malformation, characterized by a communication between the coronary sinus and the left atrium, resultant from the partial or total absence of the coronary sinus roof. It represents less than 1% of atrial septal defect cases. More reports are important to determine if this association is real or merely casual, since NF1 is a common condition.
PMCID: PMC4183039  PMID: 24473962
neurofibromatosis 1; cafe-au-lait spots; heart defects, congenital; coronary sinus/abnormalities; heart septal defects, atrial
8.  Gestational, perinatal and family findings of patients with Patau syndrome 
Revista Paulista de Pediatria  2013;31(4):459-465.
To describe gestational, perinatal and family findings of patients with Patau syndrome (PS).
The study enrolled patients with PS consecutively evaluated during 38 years in a Clinical Genetics Service of a pediatric referral hospital in Southern Brazil. The clinical data and the results of cytogenetic analysis were collected from the medical records. For statistical analysis, the two-tailed Fisher's exact test and the chi-square test with Yates' correction were used, being significant p<0.05.
The sample was composed of 27 patients, 63% were male, with a median age of nine days at the first evaluation. Full trisomy of chromosome 13 was the main cytogenetic finding (74%). Only six patients were submitted to obstetric ultrasound and none had prenatal diagnosis of PS. The patients' demographic characteristics, compared to born alive infants in the same Brazilian state showed a higher frequency of: mothers with 35 years old or more (37.5%); multiparous mothers (92.6%); vaginal delivery (77%); preterm birth (34.6%); birth weight <2500g (33.3%), and Apgar scores <7 in the 1st (75%) and in the 5th minute (42.9%). About half of them (53%) died during the first month of life.
The understanding of the PS patients' gestational, perinatal and family findings has important implications, especially on the decision about the actions to be taken in relation to the management of these patients.
PMCID: PMC4183046  PMID: 24473950
chromosomes, human, pair 13; chromosome aberrations; infant, premature; Apgar score; prenatal diagnosis; prognosis
9.  Visualization and targeted disruption of protein interactions in living cells 
Nature Communications  2013;4:2660.
Protein–protein interactions are the basis of all processes in living cells, but most studies of these interactions rely on biochemical in vitro assays. Here we present a simple and versatile fluorescent-three-hybrid (F3H) strategy to visualize and target protein–protein interactions. A high-affinity nanobody anchors a GFP-fusion protein of interest at a defined cellular structure and the enrichment of red-labelled interacting proteins is measured at these sites. With this approach, we visualize the p53–HDM2 interaction in living cells and directly monitor the disruption of this interaction by Nutlin 3, a drug developed to boost p53 activity in cancer therapy. We further use this approach to develop a cell-permeable vector that releases a highly specific peptide disrupting the p53 and HDM2 interaction. The availability of multiple anchor sites and the simple optical readout of this nanobody-based capture assay enable systematic and versatile analyses of protein–protein interactions in practically any cell type and species.
Screens for protein–protein interactions and for drugs that disrupt them typically use in vitro assays which fail to capture the complexity of the cell’s interior. By fixing proteins to distinct cellular locations, Herce et al. demonstrate a fluorescent-three-hybrid approach to probe such interactions in their cellular contexts.
PMCID: PMC3826628  PMID: 24154492
10.  Craniofacial abnormalities among patients with Edwards Syndrome 
Revista Paulista de Pediatria  2013;31(3):293-298.
To determine the frequency and types of craniofacial abnormalities observed in patients with trisomy 18 or Edwards syndrome (ES).
This descriptive and retrospective study of a case series included all patients diagnosed with ES in a Clinical Genetics Service of a reference hospital in Southern Brazil from 1975 to 2008. The results of the karyotypic analysis, along with clinical data, were collected from medical records.
The sample consisted of 50 patients, of which 66% were female. The median age at first evaluation was 14 days. Regarding the karyotypes, full trisomy of chromosome 18 was the main alteration (90%). Mosaicism was observed in 10%. The main craniofacial abnormalities were: microretrognathia (76%), abnormalities of the ear helix/dysplastic ears (70%), prominent occiput (52%), posteriorly rotated (46%) and low set ears (44%), and short palpebral fissures/blepharophimosis (46%). Other uncommon - but relevant - abnormalities included: microtia (18%), orofacial clefts (12%), preauricular tags (10%), facial palsy (4%), encephalocele (4%), absence of external auditory canal (2%) and asymmetric face (2%). One patient had an initial suspicion of oculo-auriculo-vertebral spectrum (OAVS) or Goldenhar syndrome.
Despite the literature description of a characteristic clinical presentation for ES, craniofacial alterations may be variable among these patients. The OAVS findings in this sample are noteworthy. The association of ES with OAVS has been reported once in the literature.
PMCID: PMC4182981  PMID: 24142310
chromosomes, human, pair 18; trisomy; chromosome aberrations; craniofacial abnormalities; Goldenhar syndrome
11.  Using Manifold Learning for Atlas Selection in Multi-Atlas Segmentation 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e70059.
Multi-atlas segmentation has been widely used to segment various anatomical structures. The success of this technique partly relies on the selection of atlases that are best mapped to a new target image after registration. Recently, manifold learning has been proposed as a method for atlas selection. Each manifold learning technique seeks to optimize a unique objective function. Therefore, different techniques produce different embeddings even when applied to the same data set. Previous studies used a single technique in their method and gave no reason for the choice of the manifold learning technique employed nor the theoretical grounds for the choice of the manifold parameters. In this study, we compare side-by-side the results given by 3 manifold learning techniques (Isomap, Laplacian Eigenmaps and Locally Linear Embedding) on the same data set. We assess the ability of those 3 different techniques to select the best atlases to combine in the framework of multi-atlas segmentation. First, a leave-one-out experiment is used to optimize our method on a set of 110 manually segmented atlases of hippocampi and find the manifold learning technique and associated manifold parameters that give the best segmentation accuracy. Then, the optimal parameters are used to automatically segment 30 subjects from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). For our dataset, the selection of atlases with Locally Linear Embedding gives the best results. Our findings show that selection of atlases with manifold learning leads to segmentation accuracy close to or significantly higher than the state-of-the-art method and that accuracy can be increased by fine tuning the manifold learning process.
PMCID: PMC3732273  PMID: 23936376
12.  A Role for MeCP2 in Switching Gene Activity via Chromatin Unfolding and HP1γ Displacement 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e69347.
Methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2) is generally considered to act as a transcriptional repressor, whereas recent studies suggest that MeCP2 is also involved in transcription activation. To gain insight into this dual function of MeCP2, we assessed the impact of MeCP2 on higher-order chromatin structure in living cells using mammalian cell systems harbouring a lactose operator and reporter gene-containing chromosomal domain to assess the effect of lactose repressor-tagged MeCP2 (and separate MeCP2 domains) binding in living cells. Our data reveal that targeted binding of MeCP2 elicits extensive chromatin unfolding. MeCP2-induced chromatin unfolding is triggered independently of the methyl-cytosine-binding domain. Interestingly, MeCP2 binding triggers the loss of HP1γ at the chromosomal domain and an increased HP1γ mobility, which is not observed for HP1α and HP1β. Surprisingly, MeCP2-induced chromatin unfolding is not associated with transcriptional activation. Our study suggests a novel role for MeCP2 in reorganizing chromatin to facilitate a switch in gene activity.
PMCID: PMC3720725  PMID: 23935992
13.  Liver Transplantation Prevents Progressive Neurological Impairment in Argininemia 
JIMD Reports  2013;11:25-30.
Argininemia is a rare hereditary disease due to a deficiency of hepatic arginase, which is the last enzyme of the urea cycle and hydrolyzes arginine to ornithine and urea. The onset of the disease is usually in childhood, and clinical manifestations include progressive spastic paraparesis and mental retardation. Liver involvement is less frequent and usually not as severe as observed in other UCDs. For this reason, and because usually there is a major neurological disease at diagnosis, patients with argininemia are rarely considered as candidates for OLT despite its capacity to replace the deficient enzyme by an active one. We report on long-term follow-up of two patients with argininemia. Patient 1 was diagnosed by the age of 20 months and despite appropriate conventional treatment progressed to spastic paraparesis with marked limp. OLT was performed at 10 years of age with normalization of plasmatic arginine levels and guanidino compounds. Ten years post-OLT, under free diet, there is no progression of neurological lesions. The second patient (previously reported by our group) was diagnosed at 2 months of age, during a neonatal cholestasis workup study. OLT was performed at the age of 7 years, due to liver cirrhosis with portal hypertension, in the absence of neurological lesions and an almost-normal brain MRI. After OLT, under free diet, there was normalization of plasmatic arginine levels and guanidino compounds. Twelve years post-OLT, she presents a normal neurological examination. We conclude that OLT prevents progressive neurological impairment in argininemia and should be considered when appropriate conventional treatment fails.
PMCID: PMC3755545  PMID: 23559324
14.  Atrophy Rates in Asymptomatic Amyloidosis: Implications for Alzheimer Prevention Trials 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e58816.
There is considerable interest in designing therapeutic studies of individuals at risk of Alzheimer disease (AD) to prevent the onset of symptoms. Cortical β-amyloid plaques, the first stage of AD pathology, can be detected in vivo using positron emission tomography (PET), and several studies have shown that ∼1/3 of healthy elderly have significant β-amyloid deposition. Here we assessed whether asymptomatic amyloid-PET-positive controls have increased rates of brain atrophy, which could be harnessed as an outcome measure for AD prevention trials. We assessed 66 control subjects (age = 73.5±7.3 yrs; MMSE = 29±1.3) from the Australian Imaging Biomarkers & Lifestyle study who had a baseline Pittsburgh Compound B (PiB) PET scan and two 3T MRI scans ∼18-months apart. We calculated PET standard uptake value ratios (SUVR), and classified individuals as amyloid-positive/negative. Baseline and 18-month MRI scans were registered, and brain, hippocampal, and ventricular volumes and annualized volume changes calculated. Increasing baseline PiB-PET measures of β-amyloid load correlated with hippocampal atrophy rate independent of age (p = 0.014). Twenty-two (1/3) were PiB-positive (SUVR>1.40), the remaining 44 PiB-negative (SUVR≤1.31). Compared to PiB-negatives, PiB-positive individuals were older (76.8±7.5 vs. 71.7±7.5, p<0.05) and more were APOE4 positive (63.6% vs. 19.2%, p<0.01) but there were no differences in baseline brain, ventricle or hippocampal volumes, either with or without correction for total intracranial volume, once age and gender were accounted for. The PiB-positive group had greater total hippocampal loss (0.06±0.08 vs. 0.02±0.05 ml/yr, p = 0.02), independent of age and gender, with non-significantly higher rates of whole brain (7.1±9.4 vs. 4.7±5.5 ml/yr) and ventricular (2.0±3.0 vs. 1.1±1.0 ml/yr) change. Based on the observed effect size, recruiting 384 (95%CI 195–1080) amyloid-positive subjects/arm will provide 80% power to detect 25% absolute slowing of hippocampal atrophy rate in an 18-month treatment trial. We conclude that hippocampal atrophy may be a feasible outcome measure for secondary prevention studies in asymptomatic amyloidosis.
PMCID: PMC3599038  PMID: 23554933
15.  LoAd: A locally adaptive cortical segmentation algorithm 
NeuroImage  2011;56(3):1386-1397.
Thickness measurements of the cerebral cortex can aid diagnosis and provide valuable information about the temporal evolution of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and schizophrenia. Methods that measure the thickness of the cerebral cortex from in-vivo magnetic resonance (MR) images rely on an accurate segmentation of the MR data. However, segmenting the cortex in a robust and accurate way still poses a challenge due to the presence of noise, intensity non-uniformity, partial volume effects, the limited resolution of MRI and the highly convoluted shape of the cortical folds. Beginning with a well-established probabilistic segmentation model with anatomical tissue priors, we propose three post-processing refinements: a novel modification of the prior information to reduce segmentation bias; introduction of explicit partial volume classes; and a locally varying MRF-based model for enhancement of sulci and gyri. Experiments performed on a new digital phantom, on BrainWeb data and on data from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) show statistically significant improvements in Dice scores and PV estimation (p<10−3) and also increased thickness estimation accuracy when compared to three well established techniques.
PMCID: PMC3554791  PMID: 21316470
Gaussian mixture model; Expectation-maximization; Markov Random Field; Cortical segmentation; Partial volume effect
16.  Direct Homo- and Hetero-Interactions of MeCP2 and MBD2 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e53730.
Epigenetic marks like methylation of cytosines at CpG dinucleotides are essential for mammalian development and play a major role in the regulation of gene expression and chromatin architecture. The methyl-cytosine binding domain (MBD) protein family recognizes and translates this methylation mark. We have recently shown that the level of MeCP2 and MBD2, two members of the MBD family, increased during differentiation and their ectopic expression induced heterochromatin clustering in vivo. As oligomerization of these MBD proteins could constitute a factor contributing to the chromatin clustering effect, we addressed potential associations among the MBD family performing a series of different interaction assays in vitro as well as in vivo. Using recombinant purified MBDs we found that MeCP2 and MBD2 showed the stronger self and cross association as compared to the other family members. Besides demonstrating that these homo- and hetero-interactions occur in the absence of DNA, we could confirm them in mammalian cells using co-immunoprecipitation analysis. Employing a modified form of the fluorescent two-hybrid protein-protein interaction assay, we could clearly visualize these associations in single cells in vivo. Deletion analysis indicated that the region of MeCP2 comprising amino acids 163–309 as well the first 152 amino acids of MBD2 are the domains responsible for MeCP2 and MBD2 associations. Our results strengthen the possibility that MeCP2 and MBD2 direct interactions could crosslink chromatin fibers and therefore give novel insight into the molecular mechanism of MBD mediated global heterochromatin architecture.
PMCID: PMC3546041  PMID: 23335972
17.  Acute effects of resistance exercise and intermittent intense aerobic exercise on blood cell count and oxidative stress in trained middle-aged women 
The aim of this study was to compare the effect of an intermittent intense aerobic exercise session and a resistance exercise session on blood cell counts and oxidative stress parameters in middle-aged women. Thirty-four women were selected and divided into three groups: RE group (performing 60 min of resistance exercises, N = 12), spinning group (performing 60 min of spinning, N = 12), and control group (not exercising regularly, N = 10). In both exercise groups, lymphocytes and monocytes decreased after 1-h recuperation (post-exercise) compared to immediately after exercise (P < 0.05). Immediately after exercise, in both exercised groups, a significant increase in TBARS (from 16.5 ± 2 to 25 ± 2 for the spinning group and from 18.6 ± 1 to 28.2 ± 3 nmol MDA/mL serum for the RE group) and protein carbonyl (from 1.0 ± 0.3 to 1.6 ± 0.2 for the spinning group and from 0.9 ± 0.2 to 1.5 ± 0.2 nmol/mg protein for the RE group) was observed (P < 0.05). A decrease in antioxidant activities (non-protein sulfhydryl, superoxide dismutase, catalase) was also demonstrated with a negative correlation between damage markers and antioxidant body defenses (P < 0.05). These results indicate that an acute bout of intermittent or anaerobic exercise induces immune suppression and increases the production of reactive oxygen species, causing oxidative stress in middle-aged and trained women. Furthermore, we demonstrated that trained women show improved antioxidant capacity and lower oxidative damage than sedentary ones, demonstrating the benefits of chronic regular physical activity.
PMCID: PMC3854236  PMID: 23090122
Intermittent exercise; Anaerobic exercise; Oxidative stress; Immune suppression; Middle-aged women
18.  MeCP2 Dependent Heterochromatin Reorganization during Neural Differentiation of a Novel Mecp2-Deficient Embryonic Stem Cell Reporter Line 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47848.
The X-linked Mecp2 is a known interpreter of epigenetic information and mutated in Rett syndrome, a complex neurological disease. MeCP2 recruits HDAC complexes to chromatin thereby modulating gene expression and, importantly regulates higher order heterochromatin structure. To address the effects of MeCP2 deficiency on heterochromatin organization during neural differentiation, we developed a versatile model for stem cell in vitro differentiation. Therefore, we modified murine Mecp2 deficient (Mecp2−/y) embryonic stem cells to generate cells exhibiting green fluorescent protein expression upon neural differentiation. Subsequently, we quantitatively analyzed heterochromatin organization during neural differentiation in wild type and in Mecp2 deficient cells. We found that MeCP2 protein levels increase significantly during neural differentiation and accumulate at constitutive heterochromatin. Statistical analysis of Mecp2 wild type neurons revealed a significant clustering of heterochromatin per nuclei with progressing differentiation. In contrast we found Mecp2 deficient neurons and astroglia cells to be significantly impaired in heterochromatin reorganization. Our results (i) introduce a new and manageable cellular model to study the molecular effects of Mecp2 deficiency, and (ii) support the view of MeCP2 as a central protein in heterochromatin architecture in maturating cells, possibly involved in stabilizing their differentiated state.
PMCID: PMC3480415  PMID: 23112857
19.  Heterochromatin and gene positioning: inside, outside, any side? 
Chromosoma  2012;121(6):555-563.
All cellular processes depend on the expression and repression of the right sets of genes at the right time. As each cell contains the same DNA, transcriptional and epigenetic factors have to maintain tight control over gene expression. Even a small divergence from the correct transcriptional program can lead to severe defects and even death. Having deciphered the complete linear genetic information, we need to clarify how this information is organized into the dynamic and highly heterogeneous three-dimensional space of the eukaryotic cell nucleus. Observations on the higher order organization of DNA into differentiated condensation levels date back to the early twentieth century, and potential implications of these structural features to gene expression were postulated shortly after. In particular, proximity of genes to condensed regions of heterochromatin was proposed to negatively influence their expression and, henceforward, the concept of heterochromatin as subnuclear silencing compartment emerged. Methodological advances fueled a flurry of recent studies, which only, in part, led support to this concept. In this review, we address how (hetero)chromatin structure and proximity might influence gene expression and discuss the challenges and means to unravel this fundamental biological question.
PMCID: PMC3501169  PMID: 23090282
20.  Step-Wise Assembly, Maturation and Dynamic Behavior of the Human CENP-P/O/R/Q/U Kinetochore Sub-Complex 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44717.
Kinetochores are multi-protein megadalton assemblies that are required for attachment of microtubules to centromeres and, in turn, the segregation of chromosomes in mitosis. Kinetochore assembly is a cell cycle regulated multi-step process. The initial step occurs during interphase and involves loading of the 15-subunit constitutive centromere associated complex (CCAN), which contains a 5-subunit (CENP-P/O/R/Q/U) sub-complex. Here we show using a fluorescent three-hybrid (F3H) assay and fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) in living mammalian cells that CENP-P/O/R/Q/U subunits exist in a tightly packed arrangement that involves multifold protein-protein interactions. This sub-complex is, however, not pre-assembled in the cytoplasm, but rather assembled on kinetochores through the step-wise recruitment of CENP-O/P heterodimers and the CENP-P, -O, -R, -Q and -U single protein units. SNAP-tag experiments and immuno-staining indicate that these loading events occur during S-phase in a manner similar to the nucleosome binding components of the CCAN, CENP-T/W/N. Furthermore, CENP-P/O/R/Q/U binding to the CCAN is largely mediated through interactions with the CENP-N binding protein CENP-L as well as CENP-K. Once assembled, CENP-P/O/R/Q/U exchanges slowly with the free nucleoplasmic pool indicating a low off-rate for individual CENP-P/O/R/Q/U subunits. Surprisingly, we then find that during late S-phase, following the kinetochore-binding step, both CENP-Q and -U but not -R undergo oligomerization. We propose that CENP-P/O/R/Q/U self-assembles on kinetochores with varying stoichiometry and undergoes a pre-mitotic maturation step that could be important for kinetochores switching into the correct conformation necessary for microtubule-attachment.
PMCID: PMC3445539  PMID: 23028590
21.  UVA-induced DNA double-strand breaks result from the repair of clustered oxidative DNA damages 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(20):10263-10273.
UVA (320–400 nm) represents the main spectral component of solar UV radiation, induces pre-mutagenic DNA lesions and is classified as Class I carcinogen. Recently, discussion arose whether UVA induces DNA double-strand breaks (dsbs). Only few reports link the induction of dsbs to UVA exposure and the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. Using the Comet-assay and γH2AX as markers for dsb formation, we demonstrate the dose-dependent dsb induction by UVA in G1-synchronized human keratinocytes (HaCaT) and primary human skin fibroblasts. The number of γH2AX foci increases when a UVA dose is applied in fractions (split dose), with a 2-h recovery period between fractions. The presence of the anti-oxidant Naringin reduces dsb formation significantly. Using an FPG-modified Comet-assay as well as warm and cold repair incubation, we show that dsbs arise partially during repair of bi-stranded, oxidative, clustered DNA lesions. We also demonstrate that on stretched chromatin fibres, 8-oxo-G and abasic sites occur in clusters. This suggests a replication-independent formation of UVA-induced dsbs through clustered single-strand breaks via locally generated reactive oxygen species. Since UVA is the main component of solar UV exposure and is used for artificial UV exposure, our results shine new light on the aetiology of skin cancer.
PMCID: PMC3488256  PMID: 22941639
22.  Targeted manipulation of heterochromatin rescues MeCP2 Rett mutants and re-establishes higher order chromatin organization 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(22):e176.
Heterochromatic regions represent a significant portion of the mammalian genome and have been implied in several important cellular processes, including cell division and genomic stability. However, its composition and dynamics remain largely unknown. To better understand how heterochromatin functions and how it is organized within the context of the cell nucleus, we have developed molecular tools allowing the targeting of virtually any nuclear factor specifically to heterochromatic regions and, thereby, the manipulation, also in a temporally controlled manner, of its composition. To validate our approach, we have ectopically targeted MeCP2 chromatin binding deficient Rett mutants to constitutive heterochromatic regions and analyze its functional consequences. We could show that, once bound to their endogenous target regions, their ability to re-organize higher order chromatin structure is restored. Furthermore, a temporally controlled targeting strategy allowed us to monitor MeCP2-mediated chromatin rearrangements in vivo and to visualize large-scale chromatin movements over several micrometers, as well as heterochromatic foci fusion events. This novel strategy enables specific tethering of any protein to heterochromatin and lays the ground for controlled manipulation of its composition and organization.
PMCID: PMC3526307  PMID: 22923521
23.  Use of an avirulent live Salmonella Choleraesuis vaccine to reduce the prevalence of Salmonella carrier pigs at slaughter 
The Veterinary Record  2011;169(21):553.
This study evaluated the use of an avirulent live Salmonella Choleraesuis vaccine to reduce the seroprevalence and number of Salmonella carrier pigs at slaughter. Seven batches of 500 pigs were included in each of the two study groups: the vaccinated group (VG) that was orally vaccinated and the control group (CG) that received a placebo on the first day of life. The groups were managed in a three-site system and followed up from birth to slaughter. Blood samples (n=378) were collected from each VG and CG to monitor the on-farm seroprevalence in both groups. Mesenteric lymph nodes and blood from animals (n=390) belonging to each group were collected at slaughter. At the first day of life, the seroprevalence in control batches ranged from 77.9 to 96.3 per cent, while in vaccinated batches, it ranged from 66.6 to 92.6 per cent. At weaning (21 days of age), the number of seropositives decreased in both groups (mean of 12 and 3.7 per cent for CG and VG, respectively). At slaughter, batches of VG had a significantly (P<0.0001) lower seroprevalence (46.6±5 per cent) and isolation of Salmonella from lymph nodes (33.1±5 per cent) compared with CG batches (79.7±4 per cent and 59.5±5 per cent, respectively). The results indicate that administration of a Salmonella choleraesuis-attenuated vaccine on the first day of life decreases Salmonella isolation and seroprevalence in pigs at slaughter.
PMCID: PMC3361956  PMID: 21949083
24.  Organization of DNA Replication 
The discovery of the DNA double helix structure half a century ago immediately suggested a mechanism for its duplication by semi-conservative copying of the nucleotide sequence into two DNA daughter strands. Shortly after, a second fundamental step toward the elucidation of the mechanism of DNA replication was taken with the isolation of the first enzyme able to polymerize DNA from a template. In the subsequent years, the basic mechanism of DNA replication and its enzymatic machinery components were elucidated, mostly through genetic approaches and in vitro biochemistry. Most recently, the spatial and temporal organization of the DNA replication process in vivo within the context of chromatin and inside the intact cell are finally beginning to be elucidated. On the one hand, recent advances in genome-wide high throughput techniques are providing a new wave of information on the progression of genome replication at high spatial resolution. On the other hand, novel super-resolution microscopy techniques are just starting to give us the first glimpses of how DNA replication is organized within the context of single intact cells with high spatial resolution. The integration of these data with time lapse microscopy analysis will give us the ability to film and dissect the replication of the genome in situ and in real time.
Integration of genomic studies and super-resolution microscopy indicates that, in vivo, DNA replication is self-propagating and increases in efficiency through S phase.
PMCID: PMC2845211  PMID: 20452942
25.  Backbone rigidity and static presentation of guanidinium groups increases cellular uptake of arginine-rich cell-penetrating peptides 
Nature Communications  2011;2:453-.
In addition to endocytosis-mediated cellular uptake, hydrophilic cell-penetrating peptides are able to traverse biological membranes in a non-endocytic mode termed transduction, resulting in immediate bioavailability. Here we analysed structural requirements for the non-endocytic uptake mode of arginine-rich cell-penetrating peptides, by a combination of live-cell microscopy, molecular dynamics simulations and analytical ultracentrifugation. We demonstrate that the transduction efficiency of arginine-rich peptides increases with higher peptide structural rigidity. Consequently, cyclic arginine-rich cell-penetrating peptides showed enhanced cellular uptake kinetics relative to their linear and more flexible counterpart. We propose that guanidinium groups are forced into maximally distant positions by cyclization. This orientation increases membrane contacts leading to enhanced cell penetration.
Cell-penetrating peptides can deliver molecular cargoes into living cells, and cross biological membranes by transduction—a non-endocytic mechanism. Here, the transduction efficiency of cyclic arginine-rich peptides is shown to be higher than that of more flexible linear peptides.
PMCID: PMC3265364  PMID: 21878907

Results 1-25 (72)