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1.  Mathematical Modeling of the Role of Mitochondrial Fusion and Fission in Mitochondrial DNA Maintenance 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e76230.
Accumulation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations has been implicated in a wide range of human pathologies, including neurodegenerative diseases, sarcopenia, and the aging process itself. In cells, mtDNA molecules are constantly turned over (i.e. replicated and degraded) and are also exchanged among mitochondria during the fusion and fission of these organelles. While the expansion of a mutant mtDNA population is believed to occur by random segregation of these molecules during turnover, the role of mitochondrial fusion-fission in this context is currently not well understood. In this study, an in silico modeling approach is taken to investigate the effects of mitochondrial fusion and fission dynamics on mutant mtDNA accumulation. Here we report model simulations suggesting that when mitochondrial fusion-fission rate is low, the slow mtDNA mixing can lead to an uneven distribution of mutant mtDNA among mitochondria in between two mitochondrial autophagic events leading to more stochasticity in the outcomes from a single random autophagic event. Consequently, slower mitochondrial fusion-fission results in higher variability in the mtDNA mutation burden among cells in a tissue over time, and mtDNA mutations have a higher propensity to clonally expand due to the increased stochasticity. When these mutations affect cellular energetics, nuclear retrograde signalling can upregulate mtDNA replication, which is expected to slow clonal expansion of these mutant mtDNA. However, our simulations suggest that the protective ability of retrograde signalling depends on the efficiency of fusion-fission process. Our results thus shed light on the interplay between mitochondrial fusion-fission and mtDNA turnover and may explain the mechanism underlying the experimentally observed increase in the accumulation of mtDNA mutations when either mitochondrial fusion or fission is inhibited.
PMCID: PMC3795767  PMID: 24146842
2.  Chronic resveratrol intake reverses pro-inflammatory cytokine profile and oxidative DNA damage in ageing hybrid mice 
Age  2010;33(3):229-246.
Thymic involution and shrinkage of secondary lymphoid organs are leading causes of the deterioration of the T-cell compartment with age. Inflamm-aging, a sustained inflammatory status has been associated with chronic diseases and shortened longevity. This is the first study to investigate the effect of treating aging hybrid mice with long-term, low-dose resveratrol (RSV) in drinking water by assessing multiple immunological markers and profiles in the immune system. We found that hybrid mice exhibited marked age-related changes in the CD3+CD4+, C3+CD8+, CD4+CD25+, CD4M and CD8M surface markers. RSV reversed surface phenotypes of old mice to that of young mice by maintaining the CD4+ and CD8+ population in splenocytes as well as reducing CD8+CD44+ (CD8M) cells in the aged. RSV also enhanced the CD4+CD25+ population in old mice. Interestingly, pro-inflammatory status in young mice was transiently elevated by RSV but it consequently mitigated the age-dependent increased pro-inflammatory cytokine profile while preserving the anti-inflammatory cytokine condition in the old mice. Age-dependent increase in 8OHdG, an oxidative DNA damage marker was ameliorated by RSV. Immunological-focused microarray gene expression analysis showed that only the CD72 gene was significantly downregulated in the 12-month RSV-treated mice compared to age-matched controls. Our study indicates that RSV even at low physiological relevant levels is able to affect the immune system without causing marked gene expression changes.
PMCID: PMC3168607  PMID: 20730501
Resveratrol; Aging; Cytokines; Inflammation; Oxidative DNA damage; T lymphocytes; Surface markers
3.  Role of Direct Repeat and Stem-Loop Motifs in mtDNA Deletions: Cause or Coincidence? 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35271.
Deletion mutations within mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) have been implicated in degenerative and aging related conditions, such as sarcopenia and neuro-degeneration. While the precise molecular mechanism of deletion formation in mtDNA is still not completely understood, genome motifs such as direct repeat (DR) and stem-loop (SL) have been observed in the neighborhood of deletion breakpoints and thus have been postulated to take part in mutagenesis. In this study, we have analyzed the mitochondrial genomes from four different mammals: human, rhesus monkey, mouse and rat, and compared them to randomly generated sequences to further elucidate the role of direct repeat and stem-loop motifs in aging associated mtDNA deletions. Our analysis revealed that in the four species, DR and SL structures are abundant and that their distributions in mtDNA are not statistically different from randomized sequences. However, the average distance between the reported age associated mtDNA breakpoints and their respective nearest DR motifs is significantly shorter than what is expected of random chance in human (p<10−4) and rhesus monkey (p = 0.0034), but not in mouse (p = 0.0719) and rat (p = 0.0437), indicating the existence of species specific difference in the relationship between DR motifs and deletion breakpoints. In addition, the frequencies of large DRs (>10 bp) tend to decrease with increasing lifespan among the four mammals studied here, further suggesting an evolutionary selection against stable mtDNA misalignments associated with long DRs in long-living animals. In contrast to the results on DR, the probability of finding SL motifs near a deletion breakpoint does not differ from random in any of the four mtDNA sequences considered. Taken together, the findings in this study give support for the importance of stable mtDNA misalignments, aided by long DRs, as a major mechanism of deletion formation in long-living, but not in short-living mammals.
PMCID: PMC3329436  PMID: 22529999
4.  Maximizing signal-to-noise ratio in the random mutation capture assay 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;40(5):e35.
The ‘Random Mutation Capture’ assay allows for the sensitive quantitation of DNA mutations at extremely low mutation frequencies. This method is based on PCR detection of mutations that render the mutated target sequence resistant to restriction enzyme digestion. The original protocol prescribes an end-point dilution to about 0.1 mutant DNA molecules per PCR well, such that the mutation burden can be simply calculated by counting the number of amplified PCR wells. However, the statistical aspects associated with the single molecular nature of this protocol and several other molecular approaches relying on binary (on/off) output can significantly affect the quantification accuracy, and this issue has so far been ignored. The present work proposes a design of experiment (DoE) using statistical modeling and Monte Carlo simulations to obtain a statistically optimal sampling protocol, one that minimizes the coefficient of variance in the measurement estimates. Here, the DoE prescribed a dilution factor at about 1.6 mutant molecules per well. Theoretical results and experimental validation revealed an up to 10-fold improvement in the information obtained per PCR well, i.e. the optimal protocol achieves the same coefficient of variation using one-tenth the number of wells used in the original assay. Additionally, this optimization equally applies to any method that relies on binary detection of a small number of templates.
PMCID: PMC3300001  PMID: 22180539
5.  Mitochondrial Changes in Ageing Caenorhabditis elegans – What Do We Learn from Superoxide Dismutase Knockouts? 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19444.
One of the most popular damage accumulation theories of ageing is the mitochondrial free radical theory of ageing (mFRTA). The mFRTA proposes that ageing is due to the accumulation of unrepaired oxidative damage, in particular damage to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Within the mFRTA, the “vicious cycle” theory further proposes that reactive oxygen species (ROS) promote mtDNA mutations, which then lead to a further increase in ROS production. Recently, data have been published on Caenorhabditis elegans mutants deficient in one or both forms of mitochondrial superoxide dismutase (SOD). Surprisingly, even double mutants, lacking both mitochondrial forms of SOD, show no reduction in lifespan. This has been interpreted as evidence against the mFRTA because it is assumed that these mutants suffer from significantly elevated oxidative damage to their mitochondria. Here, using a novel mtDNA damage assay in conjunction with related, well established damage and metabolic markers, we first investigate the age-dependent mitochondrial decline in a cohort of ageing wild-type nematodes, in particular testing the plausibility of the “vicious cycle” theory. We then apply the methods and insights gained from this investigation to a mutant strain for C. elegans that lacks both forms of mitochondrial SOD. While we show a clear age-dependent, linear increase in oxidative damage in WT nematodes, we find no evidence for autocatalytic damage amplification as proposed by the “vicious cycle” theory. Comparing the SOD mutants with wild-type animals, we further show that oxidative damage levels in the mtDNA of SOD mutants are not significantly different from those in wild-type animals, i.e. even the total loss of mitochondrial SOD did not significantly increase oxidative damage to mtDNA. Possible reasons for this unexpected result and some implications for the mFRTA are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3097207  PMID: 21611128
6.  Stochastic Drift in Mitochondrial DNA Point Mutations: A Novel Perspective Ex Silico 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(11):e1000572.
The mitochondrial free radical theory of aging (mFRTA) implicates Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS)-induced mutations of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) as a major cause of aging. However, fifty years after its inception, several of its premises are intensely debated. Much of this uncertainty is due to the large range of values in the reported experimental data, for example on oxidative damage and mutational burden in mtDNA. This is in part due to limitations with available measurement technologies. Here we show that sample preparations in some assays necessitating high dilution of DNA (single molecule level) may introduce significant statistical variability. Adding to this complexity is the intrinsically stochastic nature of cellular processes, which manifests in cells from the same tissue harboring varying mutation load. In conjunction, these random elements make the determination of the underlying mutation dynamics extremely challenging. Our in silico stochastic study reveals the effect of coupling the experimental variability and the intrinsic stochasticity of aging process in some of the reported experimental data. We also show that the stochastic nature of a de novo point mutation generated during embryonic development is a major contributor of different mutation burdens in the individuals of mouse population. Analysis of simulation results leads to several new insights on the relevance of mutation stochasticity in the context of dividing tissues and the plausibility of ROS ”vicious cycle” hypothesis.
Author Summary
Aging is characterized by a systemic decline of an organism's capacity in responding to internal and external stresses, leading to increased mortality. The mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging (mFRTA) attributes this decline to the accumulation of damages, in the form of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations, caused by free radical byproducts of metabolism. However, there is still a great deal of uncertainty with this theory due to the difficulties in quantifying mtDNA mutation burden. In this modeling study, we have shown that a random drift in mtDNA point mutation during life, in combination with the experimental sampling can explain the variability seen in some of the reported experimental data. Particularly, we found that while the average mutation increases in a linear fashion, the variability in the mutation load data increases over time, and thus a low number of data replicates can often lead to a deceptive inference of the mutation burden dynamics. The model also predicted a significant contribution from the embryonic developmental phase to the accumulation of mtDNA mutation burden. Furthermore, the model revealed that the replication rate of mtDNA is a major determinant of new mutations during development and in fast-dividing tissues.
PMCID: PMC2771766  PMID: 19936024
7.  Computational analyses of the surface properties of protein–protein interfaces 
This paper presents a survey of techniques that explore the surface properties of protein:protein interfaces so as to inform the prediction of probable sites of protein:protein interaction on newly determined protein structures.
Several potential applications of structural biology depend on discovering how one macromolecule might recognize a partner. Experiment remains the best way to answer this question, but computational tools can contribute where this fails. In such cases, structures may be studied to identify patches of exposed residues that have properties common to interaction surfaces and the locations of these patches can serve as the basis for further modelling or for further experimentation. To date, interaction surfaces have been proposed on the basis of unusual physical properties, unusual propensities for particular amino-acid types or an unusually high level of sequence conservation. Using the CXXSurface toolkit, developed as a part of the CCP4MG program, a suite of tools to analyse the properties of surfaces and their interfaces in complexes has been prepared and applied. These tools have enabled the rapid analysis of known complexes to evaluate the distribution of (i) hydrophobicity, (ii) electrostatic complementarity and (iii) sequence conservation in authentic complexes, so as to assess the extent to which these properties may be useful indicators of probable biological function.
PMCID: PMC2483497  PMID: 17164526
surfaces; electrostatics; hydrophobicity; conservation

Results 1-7 (7)