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1.  Time-dependent changes in gene expression induced by secreted amyloid precursor protein-alpha in the rat hippocampus 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:376.
Differential processing of the amyloid precursor protein liberates either amyloid-ß, a causative agent of Alzheimer’s disease, or secreted amyloid precursor protein-alpha (sAPPα), which promotes neuroprotection, neurotrophism, neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity. The underlying molecular mechanisms recruited by sAPPα that underpin these considerable cellular effects are not well elucidated. As these effects are enduring, we hypothesised that regulation of gene expression may be of importance and examined temporally specific gene networks and pathways induced by sAPPα in rat hippocampal organotypic slice cultures. Slices were exposed to 1 nM sAPPα or phosphate buffered saline for 15 min, 2 h or 24 h and sAPPα-associated gene expression profiles were produced for each time-point using Affymetrix Rat Gene 1.0 ST arrays (moderated t-test using Limma: p < 0.05, and fold change ± 1.15).
Treatment of organotypic hippocampal slice cultures with 1 nM sAPPα induced temporally distinct gene expression profiles, including mRNA and microRNA associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Having demonstrated that treatment with human recombinant sAPPα was protective against N-methyl d-aspartate-induced toxicity, we next explored the sAPPα-induced gene expression profiles. Ingenuity Pathway Analysis predicted that short-term exposure to sAPPα elicited a multi-level transcriptional response, including upregulation of immediate early gene transcription factors (AP-1, Egr1), modulation of the chromatin environment, and apparent activation of the constitutive transcription factors CREB and NF-κB. Importantly, dynamic regulation of NF-κB appears to be integral to the transcriptional response across all time-points. In contrast, medium and long exposure to sAPPα resulted in an overall downregulation of gene expression. While these results suggest commonality between sAPPα and our previously reported analysis of plasticity-related gene expression, we found little crossover between these datasets. The gene networks formed following medium and long exposure to sAPPα were associated with inflammatory response, apoptosis, neurogenesis and cell survival; functions likely to be the basis of the neuroprotective effects of sAPPα.
Our results demonstrate that sAPPα rapidly and persistently regulates gene expression in rat hippocampus. This regulation is multi-level, temporally specific and is likely to underpin the neuroprotective effects of sAPPα.
PMCID: PMC3691674  PMID: 23742273
Secreted amyloid precursor protein alpha; Hippocampus; Organotypic slice cultures; Microarray; Ingenuity pathway analysis; Neuroprotection; Immediate early genes; MicroRNA; NF-κB
2.  Temporal Profiling of Gene Networks Associated with the Late Phase of Long-Term Potentiation In Vivo 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40538.
Long-term potentiation (LTP) is widely accepted as a cellular mechanism underlying memory processes. It is well established that LTP persistence is strongly dependent on activation of constitutive and inducible transcription factors, but there is limited information regarding the downstream gene networks and controlling elements that coalesce to stabilise LTP. To identify these gene networks, we used Affymetrix RAT230.2 microarrays to detect genes regulated 5 h and 24 h (n = 5) after LTP induction at perforant path synapses in the dentate gyrus of awake adult rats. The functional relationships of the differentially expressed genes were examined using DAVID and Ingenuity Pathway Analysis, and compared with our previous data derived 20 min post-LTP induction in vivo. This analysis showed that LTP-related genes are predominantly upregulated at 5 h but that there is pronounced downregulation of gene expression at 24 h after LTP induction. Analysis of the structure of the networks and canonical pathways predicted a regulation of calcium dynamics via G-protein coupled receptors, dendritogenesis and neurogenesis at the 5 h time-point. By 24 h neurotrophin-NFKB driven pathways of neuronal growth were identified. The temporal shift in gene expression appears to be mediated by regulation of protein synthesis, ubiquitination and time-dependent regulation of specific microRNA and histone deacetylase expression. Together this programme of genomic responses, marked by both homeostatic and growth pathways, is likely to be critical for the consolidation of LTP in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3393663  PMID: 22802965
3.  Primordial soup or vinaigrette: did the RNA world evolve at acidic pH? 
Biology Direct  2012;7:4.
The RNA world concept has wide, though certainly not unanimous, support within the origin-of-life scientific community. One view is that life may have emerged as early as the Hadean Eon 4.3-3.8 billion years ago with an atmosphere of high CO2 producing an acidic ocean of the order of pH 3.5-6. Compatible with this scenario is the intriguing proposal that life arose within alkaline (pH 9-11) deep-sea hydrothermal vents like those of the 'Lost City', with the interface with the acidic ocean creating a proton gradient sufficient to drive the first metabolism. However, RNA is most stable at pH 4-5 and is unstable at alkaline pH, raising the possibility that RNA may have first arisen in the acidic ocean itself (possibly near an acidic hydrothermal vent), acidic volcanic lake or comet pond. As the Hadean Eon progressed, the ocean pH is inferred to have gradually risen to near neutral as atmospheric CO2 levels decreased.
Presentation of the hypothesis
We propose that RNA is well suited for a world evolving at acidic pH. This is supported by the enhanced stability at acidic pH of not only the RNA phosphodiester bond but also of the aminoacyl-(t)RNA and peptide bonds. Examples of in vitro-selected ribozymes with activities at acid pH have recently been documented. The subsequent transition to a DNA genome could have been partly driven by the gradual rise in ocean pH, since DNA has greater stability than RNA at alkaline pH, but not at acidic pH.
Testing the hypothesis
We have proposed mechanisms for two key RNA world activities that are compatible with an acidic milieu: (i) non-enzymatic RNA replication of a hemi-protonated cytosine-rich oligonucleotide, and (ii) specific aminoacylation of tRNA/hairpins through triple helix interactions between the helical aminoacyl stem and a single-stranded aminoacylating ribozyme.
Implications of the hypothesis
Our hypothesis casts doubt on the hypothesis that RNA evolved in the vicinity of alkaline hydrothermal vents. The ability of RNA to form protonated base pairs and triples at acidic pH suggests that standard base pairing may not have been a dominant requirement of the early RNA world.
This article was reviewed by Eugene Koonin, Anthony Poole and Charles Carter (nominated by David Ardell).
PMCID: PMC3372908  PMID: 22264281
RNA world; evolution; acidic pH; protonated base pairs; RNA triple helix; tRNA
4.  Mutation in the TCRα subunit constant gene (TRAC) leads to a human immunodeficiency disorder characterized by a lack of TCRαβ+ T cells  
Inherited immunodeficiency disorders can be caused by mutations in any one of a large number of genes involved in the function of immune cells. Here, we describe two families with an autosomal recessive inherited immunodeficiency disorder characterized by increased susceptibility to infection and autoimmunity. Genetic linkage studies mapped the disorder to chromosomal region 14q11.2, and a homozygous guanine-to-adenine substitution was identified at the last base of exon 3 immediately following the translational termination codon in the TCRα subunit constant gene (TRAC). RT-PCR analysis in the two affected individuals revealed impaired splicing of the mRNA, as exon 3 was lost from the TRAC transcript. The mutant TCRα chain protein was predicted to lack part of the connecting peptide domain and all of the transmembrane and cytoplasmic domains, which have a critical role in the regulation of the assembly and/or intracellular transport of TCR complexes. We found that T cells from affected individuals were profoundly impaired for surface expression of the TCRαβ complex. We believe this to be the first report of a disease-causing human TRAC mutation. Although the absence of TCRαβ+ T cells in the affected individuals was associated with immune dysregulation and autoimmunity, they had a surprising level of protection against infection.
PMCID: PMC3026716  PMID: 21206088
5.  The transition from noncoded to coded protein synthesis: did coding mRNAs arise from stability-enhancing binding partners to tRNA? 
Biology Direct  2010;5:16.
Understanding the origin of protein synthesis has been notoriously difficult. We have taken as a starting premise Wolf and Koonin's view that "evolution of the translation system is envisaged to occur in a compartmentalized ensemble of replicating, co-selected RNA segments, i.e., in an RNA world containing ribozymes with versatile activities".
Presentation of the hypothesis
We propose that coded protein synthesis arose from a noncoded process in an RNA world as a natural consequence of the accumulation of a range of early tRNAs and their serendipitous RNA binding partners. We propose that, initially, RNA molecules with 3' CCA termini that could be aminoacylated by ribozymes, together with an ancestral peptidyl transferase ribozyme, produced small peptides with random or repetitive sequences. Our concept is that the first tRNA arose in this context from the ligation of two RNA hairpins and could be similarly aminoacylated at its 3' end to become a substrate for peptidyl transfer catalyzed by the ancestral ribozyme. Within this RNA world we hypothesize that proto-mRNAs appeared first simply as serendipitous binding partners, forming complementary base pair interactions with the anticodon loops of tRNA pairs. Initially this may have enhanced stability of the paired tRNA molecules so they were held together in close proximity, better positioning the 3' CCA termini for peptidyl transfer and enhancing the rate of peptide synthesis. If there were a selective advantage for the ensemble through the peptide products synthesized, it would provide a natural pathway for the evolution of a coding system with the expansion of a cohort of different tRNAs and their binding partners. The whole process could have occurred quite unremarkably for such a profound acquisition.
Testing the hypothesis
It should be possible to test the different parts of our model using the isolated contemporary 50S ribosomal subunit initially, and then with RNAs transcribed in vitro together with a minimal set of ribosomal proteins that are required today to support protein synthesis.
Implications of the hypothesis
This model proposes that genetic coding arose de novo from complementary base pair interactions between tRNAs and single-stranded RNAs present in the immediate environment.
This article was reviewed by Eugene Koonin, Rob Knight and Berthold Kastner (nominated by Laura Landweber).
PMCID: PMC2859854  PMID: 20377916
6.  Evidence from glycine transfer RNA of a frozen accident at the dawn of the genetic code 
Biology Direct  2008;3:53.
Transfer RNA (tRNA) is the means by which the cell translates DNA sequence into protein according to the rules of the genetic code. A credible proposition is that tRNA was formed from the duplication of an RNA hairpin half the length of the contemporary tRNA molecule, with the point at which the hairpins were joined marked by the canonical intron insertion position found today within tRNA genes. If these hairpins possessed a 3'-CCA terminus with different combinations of stem nucleotides (the ancestral operational RNA code), specific aminoacylation and perhaps participation in some form of noncoded protein synthesis might have occurred. However, the identity of the first tRNA and the initial steps in the origin of the genetic code remain elusive.
Here we show evidence that glycine tRNA was the first tRNA, as revealed by a vestigial imprint in the anticodon loop sequences of contemporary descendents. This provides a plausible mechanism for the missing first step in the origin of the genetic code. In 448 of 466 glycine tRNA gene sequences from bacteria, archaea and eukaryote cytoplasm analyzed, CCA occurs immediately upstream of the canonical intron insertion position, suggesting the first anticodon (NCC for glycine) has been captured from the 3'-terminal CCA of one of the interacting hairpins as a result of an ancestral ligation.
That this imprint (including the second and third nucleotides of the glycine tRNA anticodon) has been retained through billions of years of evolution suggests Crick's 'frozen accident' hypothesis has validity for at least this very first step at the dawn of the genetic code.
This article was reviewed by Dr Eugene V. Koonin, Dr Rob Knight and Dr David H Ardell.
PMCID: PMC2630981  PMID: 19091122
7.  Transterm: a database to aid the analysis of regulatory sequences in mRNAs 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;37(Database issue):D72-D76.
Messenger RNAs, in addition to coding for proteins, may contain regulatory elements that affect how the protein is translated. These include protein and microRNA-binding sites. Transterm ( is a database of regions and elements that affect translation with two major unique components. The first is integrated results of analysis of general features that affect translation (initiation, elongation, termination) for species or strains in Genbank, processed through a standard pipeline. The second is curated descriptions of experimentally determined regulatory elements that function as translational control elements in mRNAs. Transterm focuses on protein binding sites, particularly those in 3′-untranslated regions (3′-UTR). For this release the interface has been extensively updated based on user feedback. The data is now accessible by strain rather than species, for example there are 10 Escherichia coli strains (genomes) analysed separately. In addition to providing a repository of data, the database also provides tools for users to query their own mRNA sequences. Users can search sequences for Transterm or user defined regulatory elements, including protein or miRNA targets. Transterm also provides a central core of links to related resources for complementary analyses.
PMCID: PMC2686486  PMID: 18984623
8.  Comparison of characteristics and function of translation termination signals between and within prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms 
Nucleic Acids Research  2006;34(7):1959-1973.
Six diverse prokaryotic and five eukaryotic genomes were compared to deduce whether the protein synthesis termination signal has common determinants within and across both kingdoms. Four of the six prokaryotic and all of the eukaryotic genomes investigated demonstrated a similar pattern of nucleotide bias both 5′ and 3′ of the stop codon. A preferred core signal of 4 nt was evident, encompassing the stop codon and the following nucleotide. Codons decoded by hyper-modified tRNAs were over-represented in the region 5′ to the stop codon in genes from both kingdoms. The origin of the 3′ bias was more variable particularly among the prokaryotic organisms. In both kingdoms, genes with the highest expression index exhibited a strong bias but genes with the lowest expression showed none. Absence of bias in parasitic prokaryotes may reflect an absence of pressure to evolve more efficient translation. Experiments were undertaken to determine if a correlation existed between bias in signal abundance and termination efficiency. In Escherichia coli signal abundance correlated with termination efficiency for UAA and UGA stop codons, but not in mammalian cells. Termination signals that were highly inefficient could be made more efficient by increasing the concentration of the cognate decoding release factor.
PMCID: PMC1435984  PMID: 16614446
9.  Transterm—extended search facilities and improved integration with other databases 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;34(Database issue):D37-D40.
Transterm has now been publicly available for >10 years. Major changes have been made since its last description in this database issue in 2002. The current database provides data for key regions of mRNA sequences, a curated database of mRNA motifs and tools to allow users to investigate their own motifs or mRNA sequences. The key mRNA regions database is derived computationally from Genbank. It contains 3′ and 5′ flanking regions, the initiation and termination signal context and coding sequence for annotated CDS features from Genbank and RefSeq. The database is non-redundant, enabling summary files and statistics to be prepared for each species. Advances include providing extended search facilities, the database may now be searched by BLAST in addition to regular expressions (patterns) allowing users to search for motifs such as known miRNA sequences, and the inclusion of RefSeq data. The database contains >40 motifs or structural patterns important for translational control. In this release, patterns from UTRsite and Rfam are also incorporated with cross-referencing. Users may search their sequence data with Transterm or user-defined patterns. The system is accessible at .
PMCID: PMC1347521  PMID: 16381889
10.  Transterm: a database of messenger RNA components and signals 
Nucleic Acids Research  2000;28(1):293-295.
Transterm facilitates studies of messenger RNAs and translational control signals. Each messenger RNA (mRNA) from GenBank is extracted and broken into its functional components, its coding sequence, initiation context, termination context, flanking sequence representing its 5′ UTR (untranslated region), 3′ UTR and translational signals. In addition, numerical parameters characterising each coding region in Transterm, including codon and GC bias, are available. For each species in Transterm, the initiation and termination regions are aligned by their start or stop codons and presented as base frequency matrices and tables of the information content of the bases in the alignments. Users can obtain summaries of characteristics of the mRNAs for species of their choice and search for translational signals both in the Transterm database and in their own sequence. The current release contains data from over 10 000 species, including the complete genomes of 20 prokaryotes and three eukaryotes. Both flat-file and relational database forms of Transterm are accessible via the WWW at http://biochem.otago.
PMCID: PMC102492  PMID: 10592251

Results 1-10 (10)