Deterioration of the immune system (immunosenescence) with age is associated with an increased susceptibility to infection, autoimmune disease and cancer, and reduced responsiveness to vaccination. Immunosenescence entails a reduced supply of naïve T cells from the thymus and increased specialization of peripheral T cell clones. Both thymic involution and peripheral T cell homeostasis are thought to involve cellular senescence. In order to analyze this at the molecular level, we studied gene expression profiles, epigenetic status, and genome stability in the thymus and spleen of 1-, 4-, and 18-month-old Long Evans rats. In the thymus, altered gene expression, DNA and histone H3K9 hypomethylation, increased genome instability, and apoptosis were observed in 18-month-old animals compared to 1- and 4-month-old animals. In the spleen, alterations in gene expression and epigenetic regulation occurred already by the age of 4 months compared to 1 month and persisted in 18-month-old compared to 1-month-old rats. In both organs, these changes were accompanied by the altered composition of resident T cell populations. Our study suggests that both senescence and apoptosis may be involved in altered organ function.
immunosenescence; gene expression profile; histone modification; DNA methylation; genome instability; aging
long non-coding RNAs; expression level; gastric cancer; oncomine; biomarker
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) comprise a number of underlying sub-types with various symptoms and presumably different genetic causes. One important difference between these sub-phenotypes is IQ. Some forms of ASD such as Asperger’s have relatively intact intelligence while the majority does not. In this study, we explored the role of genetic factors that might account for this difference. Using a case–control study based on IQ status in 1657 ASD probands, we analyzed both common and rare variants provided by the Autism Genome Project (AGP) consortium via dbGaP (database of Genotypes and Phenotypes). We identified a set of genes, among them HLA-DRB1 and KIAA0319L, which are strongly associated with IQ within a population of ASD patients.
GWAS; functional variants; rare variants; common variants; autism; cognitive development
ABC transporters represent a large family of ATP-driven transmembrane transporters involved in uni- or bidirectional transfer of a large variety of substrates. Divided in seven families, they represent 48 transporter proteins, several of which have been associated with human disease. Among the latter is ABCC6, a unidirectional exporter protein primarily expressed in liver and kidney. ABCC6 deficiency has been shown to cause the ectopic mineralization disorder pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE), characterized by calcification and fragmentation of elastic fibers, resulting in oculocutaneous and cardiovascular symptoms. Unique in the group of connective tissue disorders, the pathophysiological relation between the ABCC6 transporter and ectopic mineralization in PXE remains enigmatic, not in the least because of lack of knowledge on the substrate(s) of ABCC6 and its unusual expression pattern. Because many features, including structure and transport mechanism, are shared by many ABC transporters, it is worthwhile to evaluate if and to what extent the knowledge on the physiology and pathophysiology of these other transporters may provide useful clues toward understanding the (patho)physiological role of ABCC6 and how its deficiency may be dealt with.
pseudoxanthoma elasticum; ABCC6; ABC transporters; substrate identification; clinical variability; integrated approach; systems biology; modifier genes
The hepatitis B virus (HBV) genome forms a covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) minichromosome that persists in the nucleus of virus-infected hepatocytes. HBV cccDNA serves as the template for viral mRNA synthesis and is subject to epigenetic regulation by several mechanisms, including DNA methylation and histone acetylation. Recently, microRNAs (miRNAs), a class of small non-coding RNAs, were also directly connected to the epigenetic machinery through a regulatory loop. Epigenetic modifications have been shown to affect miRNA expression, and a sub-group of miRNAs (defined as epi-miRNAs) can directly target effectors of the epigenetic machinery. In this review, we will summarize recent findings on the epigenetic mechanisms controlling HBV cccDNA function, primarily focusing on the epi-miRNA functions operating in HBV replication. Investigation of the epigenetic regulation of HBV replication may help to discover novel potential therapeutic targets for drug development with the goal to eradicate the HBV cccDNA pool in hepatocytes.
hepatitis B virus; microRNA; epigenetic regulation; histone deacetylases; DNA methyltransferase
ancestral recombination graph; recombination network; recombination breakpoints; ancestral material; recombinant fragment; phylogenetic bias
The spliced leader (SL) is a gene that generates a functional ncRNA that is composed of two regions: an intronic region of unknown function (SLi) and an exonic region (SLe), which is transferred to the 5′ end of independent transcripts yielding mature mRNAs, in a process known as spliced leader trans-splicing (SLTS). The best described function for SLTS is to solve polycistronic transcripts into monocistronic units, specifically in Trypanosomatids. In other metazoans, it is speculated that the SLe addition could lead to increased mRNA stability, differential recruitment of the translational machinery, modification of the 5′ region or a combination of these effects. Although important aspects of this mechanism have been revealed, several features remain to be elucidated. We have analyzed 157 SLe sequences from 148 species from seven phyla and found a high degree of conservation among the sequences of species from the same phylum, although no considerable similarity seems to exist between sequences of species from different phyla. When analyzing case studies, we found evidence that a given SLe will always be related to a given set of transcripts in different species from the same phylum, and therefore, different SLe sequences from the same species would regulate different sets of transcripts. In addition, we have observed distinct transcript categories to be preferential targets for the SLe addition in different phyla. This work sheds light into crucial and controversial aspects of the SLTS mechanism. It represents a comprehensive study concerning various species and different characteristics of this important post-transcriptional regulatory mechanism.
spliced-leader; trans-splicing; non-coding RNAs; RNA sequence analysis; RNA secondary structure
Protein functional annotation consists in associating proteins with textual descriptors elucidating their biological roles. The bulk of annotation is done via automated procedures that ultimately rely on annotation transfer. Despite a large number of existing protein annotation procedures the ever growing protein space is never completely annotated. One of the facets of annotation incompleteness derives from annotation uncertainty. Often when protein function cannot be predicted with enough specificity it is instead conservatively annotated with more generic terms. In a scenario of protein families or functionally related (or even dissimilar) sets this leads to a more difficult task of using annotations to compare the extent of functional relatedness among all family or set members. However, we postulate that identifying sub-sets of functionally coherent proteins annotated at a very specific level, can help the annotation extension of other incompletely annotated proteins within the same family or functionally related set. As an example we analyse the status of annotation of a set of CAZy families belonging to the Polysaccharide Lyase class. We show that through the use of visualization methods and semantic similarity based metrics it is possible to identify families and respective annotation terms within them that are suitable for possible annotation extension. Based on our analysis we then propose a semi-automatic methodology leading to the extension of single annotation terms within these partially annotated protein sets or families.
functional annotation; annotation extension; protein annotation coherence; annotation metrics; gene ontology
The recent identification of c-kit-positive cardiac stem cells revealed the great growth reserve of the heart, in which connection among cells might be essential in regulating their fate. Especially, the mircrine mechanism, translocation of microRNAs (miRs) from a cell to another via gap junctions, appeared to be important in controlling the differentiation of cardiac stem cells. The modification on miR expression and/or translocation may be able to enhance further the clinical efficacy of cellular therapy.
mircrine; microRNA; c-kit; cardiac stem cells; gap junctions
Understanding the processes that cause speciation is a key aim of evolutionary biology. Lineages or biomes that exhibit recent and rapid diversification are ideal model systems for determining these processes. Species rich biomes reported to be of relatively recent origin, i.e., since the beginning of the Miocene, include Mediterranean ecosystems such as the California Floristic Province, oceanic islands such as the Hawaiian archipelago and the Neotropical high elevation ecosystem of the Páramos. Páramos constitute grasslands above the forest tree-line (at elevations of c. 2800–4700 m) with high species endemism. Organisms that occupy this ecosystem are a likely product of unique adaptations to an extreme environment that evolved during the last three to five million years when the Andes reached an altitude that was capable of sustaining this type of vegetation. We compared net diversification rates of lineages in fast evolving biomes using 73 dated molecular phylogenies. Based on our sample, we demonstrate that average net diversification rates of Páramo plant lineages are faster than those of other reportedly fast evolving hotspots and that the faster evolving lineages are more likely to be found in Páramos than the other hotspots. Páramos therefore represent the ideal model system for studying diversification processes. Most of the speciation events that we observed in the Páramos (144 out of 177) occurred during the Pleistocene possibly due to the effects of species range contraction and expansion that may have resulted from the well-documented climatic changes during that period. Understanding these effects will assist with efforts to determine how future climatic changes will impact plant populations.
biodiversity hotspots; biogeography; evolutionary radiation; dated molecular phylogenies; net diversification rates; plant evolution; Páramos
In specific regions of the adult mammalian brain, neural stem cells (NSCs) generate new neurons throughout life. Emerging evidence indicate that chromatin-based transcriptional regulation is a key epigenetic mechanism for the life-long function of adult NSCs. In the adult mouse brain, NSCs in the subventricular zone (SVZ) retain the ability to produce both neurons and glia for the life of the animal. In this review, we discuss the origin and function of SVZ NSCs as they relate to key epigenetic concepts of development and potential underlying mechanism of chromatin-based transcriptional regulation. A central point of discussion is how SVZ NSCs – which possess many characteristics of mature, non-neurogenic astrocytes – maintain a “youthful” ability to produce both neuronal and glial lineages. In addition to reviewing data regarding the function of chromatin-modifying factors in SVZ neurogenesis, we incorporate our growing understanding that long non-coding RNAs serve as an important element to chromatin-based transcriptional regulation, including that of SVZ NSCs. Discoveries regarding the epigenetic mechanisms of adult SVZ NSCs may provide key insights into fundamental principles of adult stem cell biology as well as the more complex and dynamic developmental environment of the embryonic brain.
epigenetics; chromatin modifications; neurogenesis; subventricular zone; neural stem cell; gene expression regulation
Transcription factor (TF) molecules translocate by facilitated diffusion (a combination of 3D diffusion around and 1D random walk on the DNA). Despite the attention this mechanism received in the last 40 years, only a few studies investigated the influence of the cellular environment on the facilitated diffusion mechanism and, in particular, the influence of “other” DNA binding proteins competing with the TF molecules for DNA space. Molecular crowding on the DNA is likely to influence the association rate of TFs to their target site and the steady state occupancy of those sites, but it is still not clear how it influences the search in a genome-wide context, when the model includes biologically relevant parameters (such as: TF abundance, TF affinity for DNA and TF dynamics on the DNA). We performed stochastic simulations of TFs performing the facilitated diffusion mechanism, and considered various abundances of cognate and non-cognate TFs. We show that, for both obstacles that move on the DNA and obstacles that are fixed on the DNA, changes in search time are not statistically significant in case of biologically relevant crowding levels on the DNA. In the case of non-cognate proteins that slide on the DNA, molecular crowding on the DNA always leads to statistically significant lower levels of occupancy, which may confer a general mechanism to control gene activity levels globally. When the “other” molecules are immobile on the DNA, we found a completely different behavior, namely: the occupancy of the target site is always increased by higher molecular crowding on the DNA. Finally, we show that crowding on the DNA may increase transcriptional noise through increased variability of the occupancy time of the target sites.
transcription factors; facilitated diffusion; noise; molecular crowding; roadblocks
Manipulation of gene expression on a genome-wide level is one of the most important systematic tools in the post-genome era. Such manipulations have largely been enabled by expression cloning approaches using sequence-verified cDNA libraries, large-scale RNA interference libraries (shRNA or siRNA) and zinc finger nuclease technologies. More recently, the CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) and CRISPR-associated (Cas)9-mediated gene editing technology has been described that holds great promise for future use of this technology in genomic manipulation. It was suggested that the CRISPR system has the potential to be used in high-throughput, large-scale loss of function screening. Here we discuss some of the challenges in engineering of CRISPR/Cas genomic libraries and some of the aspects that need to be addressed in order to use this technology on a high-throughput scale.
CRISPR; Cas9; RNAi; gene silencing; gene editing; knockdown; screen; high-throughput
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) explore the relationship between genome variability and disease susceptibility with either population- or family-based data. Here, we have evaluated the utility of combining population- and family-based statistical association tests and have proposed a method for reducing the burden of multiple testing. Unrelated singleton and parent-offspring trio cases and controls from the Genetics of Kidneys in Diabetes (GoKinD) study were analyzed for genetic association with diabetic nephropathy (DN) in type 1 diabetics (T1D). The Cochran-Armitage test for trend and the family-based association test were employed using either unrelated cases and controls or trios, respectively. In addition to combining single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) p-values across these tests via Fisher's method, we employed a novel screening approach to rank SNPs based on conditional power for more efficient testing. Using either the population-based or family-based subset alone predictably limited resolution to detect DN SNPs. For 384,197 SNPs passing quality control (QC), none achieved strict genome-wide significance (1.4 × 10−7) using 1171 singletons (577/594 cases/controls) or 1738 pooled singletons and offspring probands (841/897). Similarly, none of the 352,004 SNPs passing QC in 567 family trios (264/303 case/control proband trios) reached genome-wide significance. Testing the top 10 SNPs ranked using aggregated conditional power resulted in two SNPs reaching genome-wide significance, rs11645147 on chromosome 16 (p = 1.74 × 10−4 < 0.05/10 = 0.005) and rs7866522 on chromosome 9 (p = 0.0033). Efficient usage of mixed designs incorporating both unrelated and family-based data may help to uncover associations otherwise difficult to detect in the presence of massive multiple testing corrections. Capitalizing on the strengths of both types while using screening approaches may be useful especially in light of large-scale, next-generation sequencing and rare variant studies.
genome-wide association; combined study design; family-based association analysis; case-control study; diabetic nephropathies
Survivorship is a trait characterized by endurance and virility in the face of hardship. It is largely considered a psychosocial attribute developed during fatal conditions, rather than a biological trait for robustness in the context of complex, age-dependent diseases like coronary artery disease (CAD). The purpose of this paper is to present the novel phenotype, survivorship in CAD as an observed survival advantage concurrent with clinically significant CAD. We present a model for characterizing survivorship in CAD and its relationships with overlapping time- and clinically-related phenotypes. We offer an optimal measurement interval for investigating survivorship in CAD. We hypothesize genetic contributions to this construct and review the literature for evidence of genetic contribution to overlapping phenotypes in support of our hypothesis. We also present preliminary evidence of genetic effects on survival in people with clinically significant CAD from a primary case-control study of symptomatic coronary disease. Identifying gene variants that confer improved survival in the context of clinically appreciable CAD may improve our understanding of cardioprotective mechanisms acting at the gene level and potentially impact patients clinically in the future. Further, characterizing other survival-variant genetic effects may improve signal-to-noise ratio in detecting gene associations for CAD.
survivorship; survival; novel phenotype; coronary artery disease; atherosclerosis; LSAMP gene; cardioprotection
Previous efforts to characterize conservation between the human and mouse genomes focused largely on sequence comparisons. These studies are inherently limited because they don't account for gene structure differences, which may exist despite genomic sequence conservation. Recent high-throughput transcriptome studies have revealed widespread and extensive overlaps between genes, and transcripts, encoded on both strands of the genomic sequence. This overlapping gene organization, which produces sense-antisense (SAS) gene pairs, is capable of effecting regulatory cascades through established mechanisms. We present an evolutionary conservation assessment of SAS pairs, on three levels: genomic, transcriptomic, and structural. From a genome-wide dataset of human SAS pairs, we first identified orthologous loci in the mouse genome, then assessed their transcription in the mouse, and finally compared the genomic structures of SAS pairs expressed in both species. We found that approximately half of human SAS loci have single orthologous locations in the mouse genome; however, only half of those orthologous locations have SAS transcriptional activity in the mouse. This suggests that high human-mouse gene conservation overlooks widespread distinctions in SAS pair incidence and expression. We compared gene structures at orthologous SAS loci, finding frequent differences in gene structure between human and orthologous mouse SAS pair members. Our categorization of human SAS pairs with respect to mouse conservation of expression as well as structure points to limitations of mouse models. Gene structure differences, including at SAS loci, may account for some of the phenotypic distinctions between primates and rodents. Genes in non-conserved SAS pairs may contribute to evolutionary lineage-specific regulatory outcomes.
sense-antisense; transcriptome; long non-coding RNA (lncRNA); expressed sequence tags (ESTs); evolution; complex loci; bidirectional promoters
Wingless ligands, a family of secreted proteins, are critically involved in organ development and tissue homeostasis by ensuring balanced rates of stem cell proliferation, cell death and differentiation. Wnt signaling components also play crucial roles in murine placental development controlling trophoblast lineage determination, chorioallantoic fusion and placental branching morphogenesis. However, the role of the pathway in human placentation, trophoblast development and differentiation is only partly understood. Here, we summarize our present knowledge about Wnt signaling in the human placenta and discuss its potential role in physiological and aberrant trophoblast invasion, gestational diseases and choriocarcinoma formation. Differentiation of proliferative first trimester cytotrophoblasts into invasive extravillous trophoblasts is associated with nuclear recruitment of β -catenin and induction of Wnt-dependent T-cell factor 4 suggesting that canonical Wnt signaling could be important for the formation and function of extravillous trophoblasts. Indeed, activation of the pathway was shown to promote trophoblast invasion in different in vitro trophoblast model systems as well as trophoblast cell fusion. Methylation-mediated silencing of inhibitors of Wnt signaling provided evidence for epigenetic activation of the pathway in placental tissues and choriocarcinoma cells. Similarly, abundant nuclear expression of β -catenin in invasive trophoblasts of complete hydatidiform moles suggested a role for hyper-activated Wnt signaling. In contrast, upregulation of Wnt inhibitors was noticed in placentae of women with preeclampsia, a disease characterized by shallow trophoblast invasion and incomplete spiral artery remodeling. Moreover, changes in Wnt signaling have been observed upon cytomegalovirus infection and in recurrent abortions. In summary, the current literature suggests a critical role of Wnt signaling in physiological and abnormal trophoblast function.
placenta; human; trophoblast; invasion; Wnt
A novel web-based tool PedWiz that pipelines the informatics process for pedigree data is introduced. PedWiz is designed to assist researchers in the analysis of pedigree data. It provides a convenient tool for pedigree informatics: descriptive statistics, relative pairs, genetic similarity coefficients, the variance-covariance matrix for three estimated coefficients of allele identical-by-descent sharing as well as mean allele sharing, a plot of the pedigree structures, and a visualization of the identity coefficients. With a renewed interest in linkage and other family based methods, PedWiz will be a valuable tool for the analysis of family data.
pedigree; informatics; genetic similarity; identity-by-descent; relative pairs; family data
The unfolded protein response (UPR) responds to disruption of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) function by initiating signaling cascades that ultimately culminate in extensive transcriptional regulation. Classically, this regulation includes genes encoding ER chaperones, ER-associated degradation factors, and others involved in secretory protein folding and processing, and is carried out by the transcriptional activators that are produced as a consequence of UPR activation. However, up to half of the mRNAs regulated by ER stress are downregulated rather than upregulated, and the mechanisms linking ER stress and UPR activation to mRNA suppression are poorly understood. To begin to address this issue, we used a “bottom-up” approach to study the metabolic gene regulatory network controlled by the UPR in the liver, because ER stress in the liver leads to lipid accumulation, and fatty liver disease is the most common liver disease in the western world. qRT-PCR profiling of mouse liver mRNAs during ER stress revealed that suppression of the transcriptional regulators C/EBPα, PPARα, and PGC-1α preceded lipid accumulation, and was then followed by suppression of mRNAs encoding key enzymes involved in fatty acid oxidation and lipoprotein biogenesis and transport. Mice lacking the ER stress sensor ATF6α, which experience persistent ER stress and profound lipid accumulation during challenge, were then used as the basis for a functional genomics approach that allowed genes to be grouped into distinct expression profiles. This clustering predicted that ER stress would suppress the activity of the metabolic transcriptional regulator HNF4α—a finding subsequently confirmed by chromatin immunopreciptation at the Cebpa and Pgc1a promoters. Our results establish a framework for hepatic gene regulation during ER stress and suggest that HNF4α occupies the apex of that framework. They also provide a unique resource for the community to further explore the temporal regulation of gene expression during ER stress in vivo.
ER stress; fatty liver; functional genomics; gene regulatory network; lipid metabolism
The copy number variation (CNV) is a type of genetic variation in the genome. It is measured based on signal intensity measures and can be assessed repeatedly to reduce the uncertainty in PCR-based typing. Studies have shown that CNVs may lead to phenotypic variation and modification of disease expression. Various challenges exist, however, in the exploration of CNV-disease association. Here we construct latent variables to infer the discrete CNV values and to estimate the probability of mutations. In addition, we propose to pool rare variants to increase the statistical power and we conduct family studies to mitigate the computational burden in determining the composition of CNVs on each chromosome. To explore in a stochastic sense the association between the collapsing CNV variants and disease status, we utilize a Bayesian hierarchical model incorporating the mutation parameters. This model assigns integers in a probabilistic sense to the quantitatively measured copy numbers, and is able to test simultaneously the association for all variants of interest in a regression framework. This integrative model can account for the uncertainty in copy number assignment and differentiate if the variation was de novo or inherited on the basis of posterior probabilities. For family studies, this model can accommodate the dependence within family members and among repeated CNV data. Moreover, the Mendelian rule can be assumed under this model and yet the genetic variation, including de novo and inherited variation, can still be included and quantified directly for each individual. Finally, simulation studies show that this model has high true positive and low false positive rates in the detection of de novo mutation.
Bayesian model; CNV association test; de novo CNV detection; schizophrenia multiplex family; random mutation parameter
Single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) and copy number variation (CNV) are both widespread characteristic of the human genome, but are often called separately on common genotyping platforms. To capture integrated SNP and CNV information, methods have been developed for calling allelic specific copy numbers or so called copy number polymorphism (CNP), using limited inter-marker correlation. In this paper, we proposed a haplotype-based maximum likelihood method to call CNP, which takes advantage of the valuable multi-locus linkage disequilibrium (LD) information in the population. We also developed a computationally efficient algorithm to estimate haplotype frequencies and optimize individual CNP calls iteratively, even at presence of missing data. Through simulations, we demonstrated our model is more sensitive and accurate in detecting various CNV regions, compared with commonly-used CNV calling methods including PennCNV, another hidden Markov model (HMM) using CNP, a scan statistic, segCNV, and cnvHap. Our method often performs better in the regions with higher LD, in longer CNV regions, and in common CNV than the opposite. We implemented our method on the genotypes of 90 HapMap CEU samples and 23 patients with acute lung injury (ALI). For each ALI patient the genotyping was performed twice. The CNPs from our method show good consistency and accuracy comparable to others.
CNV; CNP; GWAS; haplotype; joint SNP and CNV calling; integrated SNP and CNV
Oncolytic viruses (OVs) comprise a versatile and multi-mechanistic therapeutic platform in the growing arsenal of anticancer biologics. These replicating therapeutics find favorable conditions in the tumor niche, characterized among others by increased metabolism, reduced anti-tumor/antiviral immunity, and disorganized vasculature. Through a self-amplification that is dependent on multiple cancer-specific defects, these agents exhibit remarkable tumor selectivity. With several OVs completing or entering Phase III clinical evaluation, their therapeutic potential as well as the challenges ahead are increasingly clear. One key hurdle is tumor heterogeneity, which results in variations in the ability of tumors to support productive infection by OVs and to induce adaptive anti-tumor immunity. To this end, mounting evidence suggests tumor epigenetics may play a key role. This review will focus on the epigenetic landscape of tumors and how it relates to OV infection. Therapeutic strategies aiming to exploit the epigenetic identity of tumors in order to improve OV therapy are also discussed.
oncolytic virotherapy; epigenetic modulation; cancer; tumor heterogeneity; anti-viral response; antigen presentation
Changes of voltage-gated ion channels and ligand-gated receptor channels caused by mutation or autoimmune attack are the cause of so-called channelopathies in the central and peripheral nervous system. We present the pathophysiology of channelopathies of the neuromuscular junction in terms of loss-of-function and gain-of-function principles. Autoantibodies generally have reduced access to the central nervous system, but in some cases this is enough to cause disease. A review is provided of recent findings implicating autoantibodies against ligand-activated receptor channels and potassium channels in psychiatric and neurological disorders, including schizophrenia and limbic encephalitis. The emergence of channelopathy-related neuropsychiatric disorders has implications for research and practice.
NMDA receptor; AMPA receptor; GABA receptor; glycine receptor; acetylcholine receptor; Caspr2; Lgi1; potassium channel
bioinformatics software; gene annotation; genome assembly; next-generation sequencing; phylogenetics
genomics and genetics; ethics; collaborative research; lawyers; sociology