Although mutations in mitochondrial tRNAs constitute the most common mtDNA defect, the presence of pathological variants in mitochondrial tRNAAsn is extremely rare. We were able to identify a novel mtDNA tRNAAsn gene pathogenic mutation associated with a myopathic phenotype and a previously unreported respiratory impairment. Our proband is an adult woman with ophthalmoparesis and respiratory impairment. Her muscle biopsy presented several cytochrome c oxidase-negative (COX−) fibres and signs of mitochondrial proliferation (ragged red fibres). Sequence analysis of the muscle-derived mtDNA revealed an m.5709T>C substitution, affecting mitochondrial tRNAAsn gene. Restriction-fragment length polymorphism analysis of the mutation in isolated muscle fibres showed that a threshold of at least 91.9% mutated mtDNA results in the COX deficiency phenotype. The new phenotype further increases the clinical spectrum of mitochondrial diseases caused by mutations in the tRNAAsn gene.
progressive external ophthalmoplegia; tRNA(Asn); mitochondrial myopathy
To analyze the contribution of progranulin (PGRN) to the etiopathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), we performed a PGRN gene screening in 146 Italian patients (12 familial cases) and evaluated the association of two common variants with risk of developing ALS in 239 sporadic cases (SALS). Progranulin mRNA and protein levels were measured in peripheral blood mononuclear cells and serum of a subset of these patients and controls. PGRN sequence analysis revealed a heterozygous change (p.S120Y), previously observed in an independent sporadic ALS-FTD patient. Haplotype analysis showed a conserved PGRN region among these two subjects consistent with possible common ancestor allele. Two non-coding polymorphisms were not associated to increased risk to develop ALS; mRNA and serum levels were not significantly different between cases and controls. Overall, our data argue against the hypothesis of progranulin as a major risk factor for motor neuron dysfunction, at least in Italian population. The p.S120Y variant may characterize rare patients with SALS, although its pathogenetic mechanism remains to be elucidated.
Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD) 2L, caused by mutations in the anoctamin 5 (ANO5) gene, is the third most common LGMD in Northern and Central Europe, where the c.191dupA mutation causes the majority of cases. We evaluated data from 228 Italian LGMD patients to determine the prevalence of LGMD2L and the c.191dupA mutation, and to describe the clinical, muscle biopsy, and magnetic resonance imaging findings in these patients. Forty-three patients who lacked molecular diagnosis were studied for ANO5 mutations, and four novel mutations were found in three probands. Only one proband carried the c.191dupA mutation, which was compound heterozygous with c.2516T>G. Two probands were homozygous for the c.1627dupA and c.397A>T mutations, respectively, while a fourth proband had a compound heterozygous status (c.220C>T and c.1609T>C). Therefore occurrence and molecular epidemiology of LGMD2L in this Italian cohort differed from those observed in other European countries. ANO5 mutations accounted for ∼2% of our sample. Affected patients exhibited benign progression with variable onset and an absence of cardiac and respiratory impairment; muscle biopsy generally showed mild signs, except when performed on the quadriceps muscles; MRI showed predominant involvement of the posterior thigh. Overall these common clinical, morphological and imaging findings could be useful in differential diagnosis.
Limb girdle muscular dystrophy 2L; Quadriceps myopathy; Anoctamin 5; Chloride channel; Membrane repair
The aim of this study was to perform a longitudinal assessment using Quantitative Muscle Testing (QMT) in a cohort of ambulant boys affected by Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and to correlate the results of QMT with functional measures. This study is to date the most thorough long-term evaluation of QMT in a cohort of DMD patients correlated with other measures, such as the North Star Ambulatory Assessment (NSAA) or thee 6-min walk test (6MWT).
This is a single centre, prospective, non-randomised, study assessing QMT using the Kin Com® 125 machine in a study cohort of 28 ambulant DMD boys, aged 5 to 12 years. This cohort was assessed longitudinally over a 12 months period of time with 3 monthly assessments for QMT and with assessment of functional abilities, using the NSAA and the 6MWT at baseline and at 12 months only. QMT was also used in a control group of 13 healthy age-matched boys examined at baseline and at 12 months.
There was an increase in QMT over 12 months in boys below the age of 7.5 years while in boys above the age of 7.5 years, QMT showed a significant decrease. All the average one-year changes were significantly different than those experienced by healthy controls. We also found a good correlation between quantitative tests and the other measures that was more obvious in the stronger children.
Our longitudinal data using QMT in a cohort of DMD patients suggest that this could be used as an additional tool to monitor changes, providing additional information on segmental strength.
Generating neural stem cells and neurons from reprogrammed human astrocytes is a potential strategy for neurological repair. Here we show dedifferentiation of human cortical astrocytes into the neural stem/progenitor phenotype to obtain progenitor and mature cells with a neural fate. Ectopic expression of the reprogramming factors OCT4, SOX2, or NANOG into astrocytes in specific cytokine/culture conditions activated the neural stem gene program and induced generation of cells expressing neural stem/precursor markers. Pure CD44 + mature astrocytes also exhibited this lineage commitment change and did not require passing through a pluripotent state. These astrocyte-derived neural stem cells gave rise to neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes and showed in vivo engraftment properties. ASCL1 expression further promoted neuronal phenotype acquisition in vitro and in vivo. Methylation analysis showed that epigenetic modifications underlie this process. The restoration of multipotency from human astrocytes has potential in cellular reprogramming of endogenous central nervous system cells in neurological disorders.
► Single expression of OCT4, SOX2, or NANOG reprogram astrocytes into NSCs. ► Astrocyte-derived neural stem cells gave rise to neuroectodermal cells. ► ASCL1 promoted neuronal phenotype acquisition. ► Epigenetic modifications underlie this process.
ESC, Embryonic Stem Cell; iPSC, induced Pluripotent Stem Cell; NSC, Neural Stem Cell; Astrocytes; Reprogramming; Neural stem cells; Induced pluripotent stem cells
Autosomal Dominant Optic Atrophy (ADOA) is characterized by the selective degeneration of retinal ganglion cells. The occurrence of mutations in the gene encoding the dynamin-like GTPase protein Optic Atrophy 1 (OPA1) has been observed in about 60–70% of ADOA cases. A subset of missense mutations, mostly within the GTPase domain, has recently been associated with a syndromic ADOA form called “OPA1 plus” phenotype presenting, at muscle level, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) instability.
In this study we disclosed two OPA1 gene mutations in independent probands from two families affected by OPA1 plus phenotype: the previously reported c.985-2A > G substitution and a novel microdeletion (c.2819-1_2821del).
The correlation between genotype and phenotype and the effects of these variants at the transcript level and in the muscle tissue were investigated, confirming the broad complexity in the phenotypic spectrum associated with these OPA1 mutations.
Autosomal Dominant Optic Atrophy; Optic Atrophy 1 gene; Splice-site mutations
Basing on the assumption that frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD), schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (BPD) might share common aetiological mechanisms, we analyzed genetic variation in the FTLD risk gene progranulin (GRN) in a German population of patients with schizophrenia (n = 271) or BPD (n = 237) as compared with 574 age-, gender- and ethnicity-matched controls. Furthermore, we measured plasma progranulin levels in 26 German BPD patients as well as in 61 Italian BPD patients and 29 matched controls.
A significantly decreased allelic frequency of the minor versus the wild-type allele was observed for rs2879096 (23.2 versus 34.2%, P<0.001, OR:0.63, 95%CI:0.49–0.80), rs4792938 (30.7 versus 39.7%, P = 0.005, OR: 0.70, 95%CI: 0.55–0.89) and rs5848 (30.3 versus 36.8, P = 0.007, OR: 0.71, 95%CI: 0.56–0.91). Mean±SEM progranulin plasma levels were significantly decreased in BPD patients, either Germans or Italians, as compared with controls (89.69±3.97 and 116.14±5.80 ng/ml, respectively, versus 180.81±18.39 ng/ml P<0.001) and were not correlated with age.
In conclusion, GRN variability decreases the risk to develop BPD and schizophrenia, and progranulin plasma levels are significantly lower in BPD patients than in controls. Nevertheless, a larger replication analysis would be needed to confirm these preliminary results.
The ERAP1 gene encodes an aminopeptidase involved in antigen processing. A functional polymorphism in the gene (rs30187, Arg528Lys) associates with susceptibility to ankylosying spondylitis (AS), whereas a SNP in the interacting ERAP2 gene increases susceptibility to another inflammatory autoimmune disorder, Crohn's disease (CD). We analysed rs30187 in 572 Italian patients with CD and in 517 subjects suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS); for each cohort, an independent sex- and age-matched control group was genotyped. The frequency of the 528Arg allele was significantly higher in both disease cohorts compared to the respective control population (for CD, OR = 1.20 95%CI: 1.01–1.43, p = 0.036; for RRMS, OR = 1.26; 95%CI: 1.04–1.51, p = 0.01). Meta-analysis with the Wellcome Trust Cases Control Consortium GWAS data confirmed the association with MS (pmeta = 0.005), but not with CD. In AS, the rs30187 variant has a predisposing effect only in an HLA-B27 allelic background. It remains to be evaluated whether interaction between ERAP1 and distinct HLA class I alleles also affects the predisposition to MS, and explains the failure to provide definitive evidence for a role of rs30187 in CD. Results herein support the emerging concept that a subset of master-regulatory genes underlay the pathogenesis of autoimmunity.
The presence of nonprogressive cognitive impairment is recognized as a common feature in a substantial proportion of patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. To investigate the possible role of mutations along the dystrophin gene affecting different brain dystrophin isoforms and specific cognitive profiles, 42 school-age children affected with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, subdivided according to sites of mutations along the dystrophin gene, underwent a battery of tests tapping a wide range of intellectual, linguistic, and neuropsychologic functions. Full-scale intelligence quotient was approximately 1 S.D. below the population average in the whole group of dystrophic children. Patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and mutations located in the distal portion of the dystrophin gene (involving the 140-kDa brain protein isoform, called Dp140) were generally more severely affected and expressed different patterns of strengths and impairments, compared with patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and mutations located in the proximal portion of the dystrophin gene (not involving Dp140). Patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and distal mutations demonstrated specific impairments in visuospatial functions and visual memory (which seemed intact in proximally mutated patients) and greater impairment in syntactic processing.
Maintenance and replication of mitochondrial DNA require the concerted action of several factors encoded by nuclear genome. The mitochondrial helicase Twinkle is a key player of replisome machinery. Heterozygous mutations in its coding gene, PEO1, are associated with progressive external ophthalmoplegia (PEO) characterised by ptosis and ophthalmoparesis, with cytochrome c oxidase (COX)-deficient fibres, ragged-red fibres (RRF) and multiple mtDNA deletions in muscle. Here we describe clinical, histological and molecular features of two patients presenting with mitochondrial myopathy associated with PEO. PEO1 sequencing disclosed two novel mutations in exons 1 and 4 of the gene, respectively. Although mutations in PEO1 exon 1 have already been described, this is the first report of mutation occurring in exon 4.
Progressive external ophthalmoplegia; PEO1 (C10ORF2); Mitochondrial myopathy; mtDNA multiple deletions; COX deficiency
Several susceptibility genetic variants for autoimmune diseases have been identified. A subset of these polymorphisms displays an opposite risk profile in different autoimmune conditions. This observation open interesting questions on the evolutionary forces shaping the frequency of these alleles in human populations.
We aimed at testing the hypothesis whereby balancing selection has shaped the frequency of opposite risk alleles.
Since balancing selection signatures are expected to extend over short genomic portions, we focused our analyses on 11 regions carrying putative functional polymorphisms that may represent the disease variants (and the selection targets). No exceptional nucleotide diversity was observed for ZSCAN23, HLA-DMB, VARS2, PTPN22, BAT3, C6orf47, and IL10; summary statistics were consistent with evolutionary neutrality for these gene regions. Conversely, CDSN/PSORS1C1, TRIM10/TRIM40, BTNL2, and TAP2 showed extremely high nucleotide diversity and most tests rejected neutrality, suggesting the action of balancing selection. For TAP2 and BTNL2 these signatures are not secondary to linkage disequilibrium with HLA class II genes. Nonetheless, with the exception of variants in TRIM40 and CDSN, our data suggest that opposite risk SNPs are not selection targets but rather have accumulated as neutral variants.
Data herein indicate that balancing selection is common within the extended MHC region and involves several non-HLA loci. Yet, the evolutionary history of most SNPs with an opposite effect for autoimmune diseases is consistent with evolutionary neutrality. We suggest that variants with an opposite effect on autoimmune diseases should not be considered a distinct class of disease alleles from the evolutionary perspective and, in a few cases, the opposite effect on distinct diseases may derive from complex haplotype structures in regions with high genetic diversity.
autoimmune disease; balancing selection; opposite risk profile; extended MHC region
Duchenne and Becker Muscular dystrophies (DMD/BMD) are allelic disorders caused by mutations in the dystrophin gene, which encodes a sarcolemmal protein responsible for muscle integrity. Deletions and duplications account for approximately 75% of mutations in DMD and 85% in BMD. The implementation of techniques allowing complete gene sequencing has focused attention on small point mutations and other mechanisms underlying complex rearrangements.
We selected 47 patients (41 families; 35 DMD, 6 BMD) without deletions and duplications in DMD gene (excluded by multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification and multiplex polymerase chain reaction analysis). This cohort was investigated by systematic direct sequence analysis to study sequence variation. We focused our attention on rare mutational events which were further studied through transcript analysis.
We identified 40 different nucleotide alterations in DMD gene and their clinical correlates; altogether, 16 mutations were novel. DMD probands carried 9 microinsertions/microdeletions, 19 nonsense mutations, and 7 splice-site mutations. BMD patients carried 2 nonsense mutations, 2 splice-site mutations, 1 missense substitution, and 1 single base insertion. The most frequent stop codon was TGA (n = 10 patients), followed by TAG (n = 7) and TAA (n = 4). We also analyzed the molecular mechanisms of five rare mutational events. They are two frame-shifting mutations in the DMD gene 3'end in BMD and three novel splicing defects: IVS42: c.6118-3C>A, which causes a leaky splice-site; c.9560A>G, which determines a cryptic splice-site activation and c.9564-426 T>G, which creates pseudoexon retention within IVS65.
The analysis of our patients' sample, carrying point mutations or complex rearrangements in DMD gene, contributes to the knowledge on phenotypic correlations in dystrophinopatic patients and can provide a better understanding of pre-mRNA maturation defects and dystrophin functional domains. These data can have a prognostic relevance and can be useful in directing new therapeutic approaches, which rely on a precise definition of the genetic defects as well as their molecular consequences.
Transthyretin (TTR) amyloidosis, the most frequent form of hereditary amyloidosis, is caused by dominant mutations in the TTR gene. More than 100 mutations have been identified. Clinical manifestations of TTR amyloidosis are usually induced by extracellular amyloid deposition in several organs. The major neurological manifestation is motor-sensory neuropathy associated with dysautonomic impairment. Here, we describe a 63-year-old man who came to our institution due to a suspected motor neuron disease. During a 4-year follow-up period, he underwent extensive clinical examination, electromyographic studies, sural nerve biopsy and TTR gene analysis by direct sequencing. Despite the predominant motor involvement, the detailed clinical examination also showed some mild sensory and dysautonomic signs. In addition, his clinical and family history included multiorgan disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as conditions with cardiac, renal, eye, and hepatic involvement. The sural nerve biopsy disclosed amyloid deposition, and the sequence analysis of the TTR gene detected a heterozygous Tyr78Phe substitution. The TTR gene variant found in our patient had only been described once so far, in a French man of Italian origin presenting with late-onset peripheral neuropathy and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. The predominant motor involvement presented by our patient is an uncommon occurrence and demonstrates the clinical heterogeneity of TTR amyloidosis.
Amyloid neuropathy; Motor-sensory neuropathy; Transthyretin gene
More than 2 billion individuals worldwide suffer from helminth infections. The highest parasite burdens occur in children and helminth infection during pregnancy is a risk factor for preterm delivery and reduced birth weight. Therefore, helminth infections can be regarded as a strong selective pressure.
Here we propose that candidate susceptibility genes for parasitic worm infections can be identified by searching for SNPs that display a strong correlation with the diversity of helminth species/genera transmitted in different geographic areas. By a genome-wide search we identified 3478 variants that correlate with helminth diversity. These SNPs map to 810 distinct human genes including loci involved in regulatory T cell function and in macrophage activation, as well as leukocyte integrins and co-inhibitory molecules. Analysis of functional relationships among these genes identified complex interaction networks centred around Th2 cytokines. Finally, several genes carrying candidate targets for helminth-driven selective pressure also harbour susceptibility alleles for asthma/allergy or are involved in airway hyper-responsiveness, therefore expanding the known parallelism between these conditions and parasitic infections.
Our data provide a landscape of human genes that modulate susceptibility to helminths and indicate parasitic worms as one of the major selective forces in humans.
The administration of rituximab (RTX) in vivo results in B-cell depletion, but evidence for multiple mechanisms of action have been reported. Surprisingly, B cell depletion produced a response in patients with polymyositis, which is characterized as a T cell-mediated autoimmune disorder with biopsy findings similar to Miyoshi myopathy (MM). Indeed, in dysferlinopathies, there is evidence of immune system involvement including the presence of muscle inflammation and a down regulation of the complement inhibitory factor, CD55.
Two patients were treated with four weekly infusions of RTX 375 mg/m2. To measure the improvement in muscle strength after treatment, the isometric hand grip maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) was measured by load cell four times during treatment, and again after one year. In order to assess the reproducibility of our grip assessment, we determined the hand MVC analysis in 16 healthy subjects. Moreover, we measured the number of B cells present in patients by flow cytometric analysis during the course of treatment.
The analysis of B cell number during the course of treatment showed that CD20- and CD19-positive cells were depleted to 0-0.01%. The decrease in B cells was followed by an improvement in the mobility of the pelvic and shoulder girdles as shown by the MRC%. The MVC values of both patients began at values lower than normal whereas during treatment patients had improved percentage of muscle strength. The strength peak in both patients coincided with the minimum B cell values. There were no severe adverse events associated with an infusion of RTX.
We consider the increase in muscle strength observed in both treated patients to be a consequence of their treatment with RTX. To our knowledge, these are the first cases of increased muscle strength in patients with MM. Furthermore, the results of this study indicate that B cell depletion with RTX may be useful in the treatment of patients affected by MM, suggesting a possible role for B cells in the pathophysiology of this muscle disorder.
Progranulin has recently attracted attention due to the discovery of mutations in its encoding gene (GRN) in several cases of frontotemporal lobar degeneration, but also for a possible role in inflammatory processes. In adult central nervous system, GRN mRNA is expressed in forebrain, olfactory bulbs and spinal cord. Progranulin cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) levels were evaluated in 55 patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) as well as in 35 subjects with non-inflammatory neurological diseases (NIND), 7 individuals with other inflammatory neurological disease (OIND) and 8 controls (CON), matched for ethnic background, gender and age. No statistically significant differences were found in patients compared with either NIND, OIND or CON (P > 0.05), even stratifying according to disease subtype or gender. A positive correlation between progranulin CSF levels and age was observed in patients (ρ = 0.29, P = 0.03). According to these data, progranulin does not likely play a major role in the pathogenesis of MS.
Multiple sclerosis; Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF); Progranulin
Mutations in the progranulin gene (GRN) are causative for Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration with ubiquitin-immunoreactive neuronal inclusions (FTLD-U). However, additional studies have demonstrated that these variants could be associated with Alzheimer's disease (AD). The influence of GRN genetic variability on susceptibility to AD and on expression levels in a series of neuropathologically-confirmed AD patients as well as in Peripheral Mononuclear Cells (PBMC) and in cells isolated from cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) was investigated. An association study of rs9897526 and rs5848 was carried out in an Italian population and in a replication population of European American patients and controls.
None of the variants tested act as unequivocal susceptibility factor in both populations although a tendency to an increased frequency of rs5848T allele was observed in the Italian group of AD patients. Furthermore, rs9897526 anticipated the onset of the disease in the Italian population. GRN expression in the parietal lobe of AD cases showed a 0.76-fold decrease compared with controls (1.31±0.07 versus 1.73±0.12, P=0.0025). Patients carrying the rs5848 TT genotype had the lowest GRN expression levels (0.96±0.12, P=0.014). Despite no significant differences were found in the relative PBMC and CSF GRN expression in patients compared to controls, stratifying patients according to the presence of rs5848 T allele, a 0.57-fold decrease in GRN mRNA levels over C carriers was found in PBMC (1.22±0.23 versus 0.70±0.12, P=0.04). Similarly to data obtained in brain samples, patients carrying the TT genotype showed the lowest GRN mRNA levels (TT= 0.46±0.14, CC=1.22±0.23; P=0.013). These data argue against a direct role of GRN as a susceptibility factor for sporadic AD but support a role of GRN as a disease-modifying gene, possibly contributing to the failure of neuronal survival.
Alzheimer's Disease (AD); Progranulin (GRN); Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP); Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF); Peripheral Mononuclear Cells (PBMC)
Viruses have exerted a constant and potent selective pressure on human genes throughout evolution. We utilized the marks left by selection on allele frequency to identify viral infection-associated allelic variants. Virus diversity (the number of different viruses in a geographic region) was used to measure virus-driven selective pressure. Results showed an excess of variants correlated with virus diversity in genes involved in immune response and in the biosynthesis of glycan structures functioning as viral receptors; a significantly higher than expected number of variants was also seen in genes encoding proteins that directly interact with viral components. Genome-wide analyses identified 441 variants significantly associated with virus-diversity; these are more frequently located within gene regions than expected, and they map to 139 human genes. Analysis of functional relationships among genes subjected to virus-driven selective pressure identified a complex network enriched in viral products-interacting proteins. The novel approach to the study of infectious disease epidemiology presented herein may represent an alternative to classic genome-wide association studies and provides a large set of candidate susceptibility variants for viral infections.
Viruses have represented a constant threat to human communities throughout their history, therefore, human genes involved in anti-viral response can be thought of as targets of virus-driven selective pressure. Here we utilized the marks left by selection to identify viral infection-associated allelic variants. We analyzed more than 660,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) genotyped in 52 human populations, and we used virus diversity (the number of different viruses in a geographic region) to measure virus-driven selective pressure. Results showed that genes involved in immune response and in the biosynthesis of glycan structures functioning as viral receptors display more variants associated with virus diversity than expected by chance. The same holds true for genes encoding proteins that directly interact with viral components. Genome-wide analysis identified 441 variants, mapping to 139 human genes, significantly associated with virus-diversity. We analyzed the functional relationships among genes subjected to virus-driven selective pressure and identified a complex interaction network enriched in viral products-interacting proteins. Therefore, we describe a novel approach for the identification of gene variants that may be involved in the susceptibility to viral infections.
Many human genes have adapted to the constant threat of exposure to infectious agents; according to the “hygiene hypothesis,” lack of exposure to parasites in modern settings results in immune imbalances, augmenting susceptibility to the development of autoimmune and allergic conditions. Here, by estimating the number of pathogen species/genera in a specific geographic location (pathogen richness) for 52 human populations and analyzing 91 interleukin (IL)/IL receptor genes (IL genes), we show that helminths have been a major selective force on a subset of these genes. A population genetics analysis revealed that five IL genes, including IL7R and IL18RAP, have been a target of balancing selection, a selection process that maintains genetic variability within a population. Previous identification of polymorphisms in some of these loci, and their association with autoimmune conditions, prompted us to investigate the relationship between adaptation and disease. By searching for variants in IL genes identified in genome-wide association studies, we verified that six risk alleles for inflammatory bowel (IBD) or celiac disease are significantly correlated with micropathogen richness. These data support the hygiene hypothesis for IBD and provide a large set of putative targets for susceptibility to helminth infections.
Regeneration of muscle fibers, lost during pathological muscle degeneration or after injuries, is mediated by the production of new myofibres. This process, sustained by the resident stem cells of the muscle, the satellite cells, is finely regulated by local cues, in particular by cytokines and growth factors. Evidence in the literature suggests that nerve growth factor (NGF) is involved in muscle fiber regeneration; however, its role and mechanism of action were unclear. We have investigated this issue in in vivo mouse models of muscle regeneration and in primary myogenic cells. Our results demonstrate that NGF acts through its low-affinity receptor p75NTR in a developmentally regulated signaling pathway necessary to myogenic differentiation and muscle repair in vivo. We also demonstrate that this action of NGF is mediated by the down-regulation of RhoA-GTP signaling in myogenic cells.
The vasopressin receptor type 1b (AVPR1B) is mainly expressed by pituitary corticotropes and it mediates the stimulatory effects of AVP on ACTH release; common AVPR1B haplotypes have been involved in mood and anxiety disorders in humans, while rodents lacking a functional receptor gene display behavioral defects and altered stress responses.
Here we have analyzed the two exons of the gene and the data we present suggest that AVPR1B has been subjected to natural selection in humans. In particular, analysis of exon 2 strongly suggests the action of balancing selection in African populations and Europeans: the region displays high nucleotide diversity, an excess of intermediate-frequency alleles, a higher level of within-species diversity compared to interspecific divergence and a genealogy with common haplotypes separated by deep branches. This relatively unambiguous situation coexists with unusual features across exon 1, raising the possibility that a nonsynonymous variant (Gly191Arg) in this region has been subjected to directional selection.
Although the underlying selective pressure(s) remains to be identified, we consider this to be among the first documented examples of a gene involved in mood disorders and subjected to natural selection in humans; this observation might add support to the long-debated idea that depression/low mood might have played an adaptive role during human evolution.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a motor neuron disease (MND) and one of the most common genetic causes of infant mortality, currently has no cure. Patients with SMA exhibit muscle weakness and hypotonia. Stem cell transplantation is a potential therapeutic strategy for SMA and other MNDs. In this study, we isolated spinal cord neural stem cells (NSCs) from mice expressing green fluorescent protein only in motor neurons and assessed their therapeutic effects on the phenotype of SMA mice. Intrathecally grafted NSCs migrated into the parenchyma and generated a small proportion of motor neurons. Treated SMA mice exhibited improved neuromuscular function, increased life span, and improved motor unit pathology. Global gene expression analysis of laser-capture-microdissected motor neurons from treated mice showed that the major effect of NSC transplantation was modification of the SMA phenotype toward the wild-type pattern, including changes in RNA metabolism proteins, cell cycle proteins, and actin-binding proteins. NSC transplantation positively affected the SMA disease phenotype, indicating that transplantation of NSCs may be a possible treatment for SMA.
Analysis of the human beta defensin 1 promoter region in six human populations reveals a signature of balancing selection.
Defensins, small endogenous peptides with antimicrobial activity, are pivotal components of the innate immune response. A large cluster of defensin genes is located on human chromosome 8p; among them the beta defensin 1 (DEFB1) promoterhas been extensively studied since discovery that specific polymorphisms and haplotypes associate with asthma and atopy, susceptibility to severe sepsis, as well as HIV and Candida infection predisposition.
Here, we characterize the sequence variation and haplotype structure of the DEFB1 promoter region in six human populations. In all of them, we observed high levels of nucleotide variation, an excess of intermediate-frequency alleles, reduced population differentiation and a genealogy with common haplotypes separated by deep branches. Indeed, a significant departure from the expectation of evolutionary neutrality was observed in all populations and the possibility that this is due to demographic history alone was ruled out. Also, we verified that the selection signature is restricted to the promoter region and not due to a linked balanced polymorphism. A phylogeny-based estimation indicated that the two major haplotype clades separated around 4.5 million years ago, approximately the time when the human and chimpanzee lineages split.
Altogether, these features represent strong molecular signatures of long-term balancing selection, a process that is thought to be extremely rare outside major histocompatibility complex genes. Our data indicate that the DEFB1 promoter region carries functional variants and support previous hypotheses whereby alleles predisposing to atopic disorders are widespread in modern societies because they conferred resistance to pathogens in ancient settings.
Various prognostic serum and cellular markers have been identified for many diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and tumor pathologies. Here we assessed whether the levels of certain stem cells may predict the progression of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).
Methods and Findings
The levels of several subpopulations of circulating stem cells expressing the CD133 antigen were determined by flow cytometry in 70 DMD patients. The correlation between the levels and clinical status was assessed by statistical analysis. The median (±SD) age of the population was 10.66±3.81 (range 3 to 20 years). The levels of CD133+CXCR4+CD34- stem cells were significantly higher in DMD patients compared to healthy controls (mean±standard deviation: 17.38±1.38 vs. 11.0±1.70; P = 0.03) with a tendency towards decreased levels in older patients. Moreover, the levels of this subpopulation of cells correlated with the clinical condition. In a subgroup of 19 DMD patients after 24 months of follow-up, increased levels of CD133+CXCR4+CD34- cells was shown to be associated with a phenotype characterised by slower disease progression. The circulating CD133+CXCR4+CD34- cells in patients from different ages did not exhibit significant differences in their myogenic and endothelial in vitro differentiation capacity.
Our results suggest that levels of CD133+CXCR4+CD34- could function as a new prognostic clinical marker for the progression of DMD.