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1.  Divergence and diversification in North American Psoraleeae (Fabaceae) due to climate change 
BMC Biology  2008;6:55.
Past studies in the legume family (Fabaceae) have uncovered several evolutionary trends including differential mutation and diversification rates across varying taxonomic levels. The legume tribe Psoraleeae is shown herein to exemplify these trends at the generic and species levels. This group includes a sizable diversification within North America dated at approximately 6.3 million years ago with skewed species distribution to the most recently derived genus, Pediomelum, suggesting a diversification rate shift. We estimate divergence dates of North American (NAm) Psoraleeae using Bayesian MCMC sampling in BEAST based on eight DNA regions (ITS, waxy, matK, trnD-trnT, trnL-trnF, trnK, trnS-trnG, and rpoB-trnC). We also test the hypothesis of a diversification rate shift within NAm Psoraleeae using topological and temporal methods. We investigate the impact of climate change on diversification in this group by (1) testing the hypothesis that a shift from mesic to xeric habitats acted as a key innovation and (2) investigating diversification rate shifts along geologic time, discussing the impact of Quaternary climate oscillations on diversification.
NAm Psoraleeae represents a recent, rapid radiation with several genera originating during the Pleistocene, 1 to 2 million years ago. A shift in diversification rate is supported by both methods with a 2.67-fold increase suggested around 2 million years ago followed by a 8.73-fold decrease 440,000 years ago. The hypothesis that a climate regime shift from mesic to xeric habitats drove increased diversification in affected taxa was not supported. Timing of the diversification rate increase supports the hypothesis that glaciation-induced climate changes during the Quaternary influenced diversification of the group. Nonrandom spatial diversification also exists, with greater species richness in the American Southwest.
This study outlines NAm Psoraleeae as a model example of a recent, rapid radiation. Diversification rate shifts in NAm Psoraleeae are not due to current climate regimes as represented by habitat, but instead to past global climate change resulting from Quaternary glaciations. NAm Psoraleeae diversification is a good example of how earthly dynamics including global climate change and topography work together to shape biodiversity.
PMCID: PMC2646706  PMID: 19091055
2.  Molecular phylogenetics reveal multiple tertiary vicariance origins of the African rain forest trees 
BMC Biology  2008;6:54.
Tropical rain forests are the most diverse terrestrial ecosystems on the planet. How this diversity evolved remains largely unexplained. In Africa, rain forests are situated in two geographically isolated regions: the West-Central Guineo-Congolian region and the coastal and montane regions of East Africa. These regions have strong floristic affinities with each other, suggesting a former connection via an Eocene pan-African rain forest. High levels of endemism observed in both regions have been hypothesized to be the result of either 1) a single break-up followed by a long isolation or 2) multiple fragmentation and reconnection since the Oligocene. To test these hypotheses the evolutionary history of endemic taxa within a rain forest restricted African lineage of the plant family Annonaceae was studied. Molecular phylogenies and divergence dates were estimated using a Bayesian relaxed uncorrelated molecular clock assumption accounting for both calibration and phylogenetic uncertainties.
Our results provide strong evidence that East African endemic lineages of Annonaceae have multiple origins dated to significantly different times spanning the Oligocene and Miocene epochs. Moreover, these successive origins (c. 33, 16 and 8 million years – Myr) coincide with known periods of aridification and geological activity in Africa that would have recurrently isolated the Guineo-Congolian rain forest from the East African one. All East African taxa were found to have diversified prior to Pleistocene times.
Molecular phylogenetic dating analyses of this large pan-African clade of Annonaceae unravels an interesting pattern of diversification for rain forest restricted trees co-occurring in West/Central and East African rain forests. Our results suggest that repeated reconnections between the West/Central and East African rain forest blocks allowed for biotic exchange while the break-ups induced speciation via vicariance, enhancing the levels of endemicity. These results provide an explanation for present day distribution patterns and origins of endemicity for African rain forest trees. Moreover, given the pre-Pleistocene origins of all the studied endemic East African genera and species, these results also offer important insights for setting conservation priorities in these highly diversified but threatened ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC2628871  PMID: 19087283
3.  BMC Biology turns five 
BMC Biology  2008;6:53.
PMCID: PMC2625334  PMID: 19087238
4.  Evolution of a polymodal sensory response network 
BMC Biology  2008;6:52.
Avoidance of noxious stimuli is essential for the survival of an animal in its natural habitat. Some avoidance responses require polymodal sensory neurons, which sense a range of diverse stimuli, whereas other stimuli require a unimodal sensory neuron, which senses a single stimulus. Polymodality might have evolved to help animals quickly detect and respond to diverse noxious stimuli. Nematodes inhabit diverse habitats and most nematode nervous systems are composed of a small number of neurons, despite a wide assortment in nematode sizes. Given this observation, we speculated that cellular contribution to stereotyped avoidance behaviors would also be conserved between nematode species. The ASH neuron mediates avoidance of three classes of noxious stimuli in Caenorhabditis elegans. Two species of parasitic nematodes also utilize the ASH neuron to avoid certain stimuli. We wanted to extend our knowledge of avoidance behaviors by comparing multiple stimuli in a set of free-living nematode species.
We used comparative behavioral analysis and laser microsurgery to examine three avoidance behaviors in six diverse species of free-living nematodes. We found that all species tested exhibit avoidance of chemo-, mechano- and osmosensory stimuli. In C. elegans, the bilaterally symmetric polymodal ASH neurons detect all three classes of repellant. We identified the putative ASH neurons in different nematode species by their anatomical positions and showed that in all six species ablation of the ASH neurons resulted in an inability to avoid noxious stimuli. However, in the nematode Pristionchus pacificus, the ADL neuron in addition to the ASH neuron contributed to osmosensation. In the species Caenorhabditis sp. 3, only the ASH neuron was required to mediate nose touch avoidance instead of three neurons in C. elegans. These data suggest that different species can increase or decrease the contribution of additional, non-ASH sensory neurons mediating osmosensation and mechanosensation.
The overall conservation of ASH mediated polymodal nociception suggests that it is an ancestral evolutionarily stable feature of sensation. However, the finding that contribution from non-ASH sensory neurons mediates polymodal nociception in some nematode species suggests that even in conserved sensory behaviors, the cellular response network is dynamic over evolutionary time, perhaps shaped by adaptation of each species to its environment.
PMCID: PMC2636771  PMID: 19077305
5.  An internal ribosome entry site element directs the synthesis of the 80 kDa isoforms of protein 4.1R 
BMC Biology  2008;6:51.
In red blood cells, protein 4.1 (4.1R) is an 80 kDa protein that stabilizes the spectrin-actin network and anchors it to the plasma membrane through its FERM domain. While the expression pattern of 4.1R in mature red cells is relatively simple, a rather complex array of 4.1R protein isoforms varying in N-terminal extensions, internal sequences and subcellular locations has been identified in nucleated cells. Among these, 135 kDa and 80 kDa isoforms have different N-terminal extensions and are expressed either from AUG1- or AUG2-containing mRNAs, respectively. These two types of mRNAs, varying solely by presence/absence of 17 nucleotides (nt) which contain the AUG1 codon, are produced by alternative splicing of the 4.1R pre-mRNA. It is unknown whether the 699 nt region comprised between AUG1 and AUG2, kept as a 5' untranslated region in AUG2-containing mRNAs, plays a role on 4.1R mRNA translation.
By analyzing the in vitro expression of a panel of naturally occurring 4.1R cDNAs, we observed that all AUG1/AUG2-containing cDNAs gave rise to both long, 135 kDa, and short, 80 kDa, 4.1R isoforms. More importantly, similar results were also observed in cells transfected with this set of 4.1R cDNAs. Mutational studies indicated that the short isoforms were not proteolytic products of the long isoforms but products synthesized from AUG2. The presence of a cryptic promoter in the 4.1R cDNA sequence was also discounted. When a 583 nt sequence comprised between AUG1 and AUG2 was introduced into bicistronic vectors it directed protein expression from the second cistron. This was also the case when ribosome scanning was abolished by introduction of a stable hairpin at the 5' region of the first cistron. Deletion analysis of the 583 nt sequence indicated that nucleotides 170 to 368 are essential for expression of the second cistron. The polypyrimidine tract-binding protein bound to the 583 nt active sequence but not to an inactive 3'-fragment of 149 nucleotides.
Our study is the first demonstration of an internal ribosome entry site as a mechanism ensuring the production of 80 kDa isoforms of protein 4.1R. This mechanism might also account for the generation of 60 kDa isoforms of 4.1R from a downstream AUG3. Our results reveal an additional level of control to 4.1R gene expression pathways and will contribute to the understanding of the biology of proteins 4.1R and their homologues, comprising an ample family of proteins involved in cytoskeletal organization.
PMCID: PMC2614411  PMID: 19055807
6.  Modulation of social interactions by immune stimulation in honey bee, Apis mellifera, workers 
BMC Biology  2008;6:50.
Immune response pathways have been relatively well-conserved across animal species, with similar systems in both mammals and invertebrates. Interestingly, honey bees have substantially reduced numbers of genes associated with immune function compared with solitary insect species. However, social species such as honey bees provide an excellent environment for pathogen or parasite transmission with controlled environmental conditions in the hive, high population densities, and frequent interactions. This suggests that honey bees may have developed complementary mechanisms, such as behavioral modifications, to deal with disease.
Here, we demonstrate that activation of the immune system in honey bees (using bacterial lipopolysaccharides as a non-replicative pathogen) alters the social responses of healthy nestmates toward the treated individuals. Furthermore, treated individuals expressed significant differences in overall cuticular hydrocarbon profiles compared with controls. Finally, coating healthy individuals with extracts containing cuticular hydrocarbons of immunostimulated individuals significantly increased the agonistic responses of nestmates.
Since cuticular hydrocarbons play a critical role in nestmate recognition and other social interactions in a wide variety of insect species, modulation of such chemical profiles by the activation of the immune system could play a crucial role in the social regulation of pathogen dissemination within the colony.
PMCID: PMC2596086  PMID: 19014614
7.  A comprehensive functional analysis of tissue specificity of human gene expression 
BMC Biology  2008;6:49.
In recent years, the maturation of microarray technology has allowed the genome-wide analysis of gene expression patterns to identify tissue-specific and ubiquitously expressed ('housekeeping') genes. We have performed a functional and topological analysis of housekeeping and tissue-specific networks to identify universally necessary biological processes, and those unique to or characteristic of particular tissues.
We measured whole genome expression in 31 human tissues, identifying 2374 housekeeping genes expressed in all tissues, and genes uniquely expressed in each tissue. Comprehensive functional analysis showed that the housekeeping set is substantially larger than previously thought, and is enriched with vital processes such as oxidative phosphorylation, ubiquitin-dependent proteolysis, translation and energy metabolism. Network topology of the housekeeping network was characterized by higher connectivity and shorter paths between the proteins than the global network. Ontology enrichment scoring and network topology of tissue-specific genes were consistent with each tissue's function and expression patterns clustered together in accordance with tissue origin. Tissue-specific genes were twice as likely as housekeeping genes to be drug targets, allowing the identification of tissue 'signature networks' that will facilitate the discovery of new therapeutic targets and biomarkers of tissue-targeted diseases.
A comprehensive functional analysis of housekeeping and tissue-specific genes showed that the biological function of housekeeping and tissue-specific genes was consistent with tissue origin. Network analysis revealed that tissue-specific networks have distinct network properties related to each tissue's function. Tissue 'signature networks' promise to be a rich source of targets and biomarkers for disease treatment and diagnosis.
PMCID: PMC2645369  PMID: 19014478
8.  Lack of functional alpha-lactalbumin prevents involution in Cape fur seals and identifies the protein as an apoptotic milk factor in mammary gland involution 
BMC Biology  2008;6:48.
The mammary gland undergoes a sophisticated programme of developmental changes during pregnancy/lactation. However, little is known about processes involving initiation of apoptosis at involution following weaning. We used fur seals as models to study the molecular process of involution as these animals display a unique mammary gland phenotype. Fur seals have long lactation periods whereby mothers cycle between secreting copious quantities of milk for 2 to 3 days suckling pups on land, with trips to sea alone to forage for up to 23 days during which time mammary glands remain active without initiating apoptosis/involution.
We show the molecular basis by which alpha-lactalbumin (LALBA), a secreted milk protein, is absent in Cape fur seals and demonstrate an apoptotic function for LALBA when exposed to mammary cells.
We propose that apoptosis does not occur in fur seal mammary glands due to lack of LALBA in fur seal milk, allowing evasion of involution during a foraging trip. Our work identifies LALBA as a milk factor that feeds back on the mammary gland to regulate involution.
PMCID: PMC2600633  PMID: 18986549
9.  Positive correlation between genetic diversity and fitness in a large, well-connected metapopulation 
BMC Biology  2008;6:46.
Theory predicts that lower dispersal, and associated gene flow, leads to decreased genetic diversity in small isolated populations, which generates adverse consequences for fitness, and subsequently for demography. Here we report for the first time this effect in a well-connected natural butterfly metapopulation with high population densities at the edge of its distribution range.
We demonstrate that: (1) lower genetic diversity was coupled to a sharp decrease in adult lifetime expectancy, a key component of individual fitness; (2) genetic diversity was positively correlated to the number of dispersing individuals (indicative of landscape functional connectivity) and adult population size; (3) parameters inferred from capture-recapture procedures (population size and dispersal events between patches) correlated much better with genetic diversity than estimates usually used as surrogates for population size (patch area and descriptors of habitat quality) and dispersal (structural connectivity index).
Our results suggest that dispersal is a very important factor maintaining genetic diversity. Even at a very local spatial scale in a metapopulation consisting of large high-density populations interconnected by considerable dispersal rates, genetic diversity can be decreased and directly affect the fitness of individuals. From a biodiversity conservation perspective, this study clearly shows the benefits of both in-depth demographic and genetic analyses. Accordingly, to ensure the long-term survival of populations, conservation actions should not be blindly based on patch area and structural isolation. This result may be especially pertinent for species at their range margins, particularly in this era of rapid environmental change.
PMCID: PMC2587462  PMID: 18986515
10.  Knee-clicks and visual traits indicate fighting ability in eland antelopes: multiple messages and back-up signals 
BMC Biology  2008;6:47.
Given the costs of signalling, why do males often advertise their fighting ability to rivals using several signals rather than just one? Multiple signalling theories have developed largely in studies of sexual signals, and less is known about their applicability to intra-sexual communication. We here investigate the evolutionary basis for the intricate agonistic signalling system in eland antelopes, paying particular attention to the evolutionary phenomenon of loud knee-clicking.
A principal components analysis separated seven male traits into three groups. The dominant frequency of the knee-clicking sound honestly indicated body size, a main determinant of fighting ability. In contrast, the dewlap size increased with estimated age rather than body size, suggesting that, by magnifying the silhouette of older bulls disproportionately, the dewlap acts as an indicator of age-related traits such as fighting experience. Facemask darkness, frontal hairbrush size and body greyness aligned with a third underlying variable, presumed to be androgen-related aggression. A longitudinal study provided independent support of these findings.
The results show that the multiple agonistic signals in eland reflect three separate components of fighting ability: (1) body size, (2) age and (3) presumably androgen-related aggression, which is reflected in three backup signals. The study highlights how complex agonistic signalling systems can evolve through the simultaneous action of several selective forces, each of which favours multiple signals. Specifically, loud knee-clicking is discovered to be an honest signal of body size, providing an exceptional example of the potential for non-vocal acoustic communication in mammals.
PMCID: PMC2596769  PMID: 18986518
11.  Y chromosome evidence of earliest modern human settlement in East Asia and multiple origins of Tibetan and Japanese populations 
BMC Biology  2008;6:45.
The phylogeography of the Y chromosome in Asia previously suggested that modern humans of African origin initially settled in mainland southern East Asia, and about 25,000–30,000 years ago, migrated northward, spreading throughout East Asia. However, the fragmented distribution of one East Asian specific Y chromosome lineage (D-M174), which is found at high frequencies only in Tibet, Japan and the Andaman Islands, is inconsistent with this scenario.
In this study, we collected more than 5,000 male samples from 73 East Asian populations and reconstructed the phylogeography of the D-M174 lineage. Our results suggest that D-M174 represents an extremely ancient lineage of modern humans in East Asia, and a deep divergence was observed between northern and southern populations.
We proposed that D-M174 has a southern origin and its northward expansion occurred about 60,000 years ago, predating the northward migration of other major East Asian lineages. The Neolithic expansion of Han culture and the last glacial maximum are likely the key factors leading to the current relic distribution of D-M174 in East Asia. The Tibetan and Japanese populations are the admixture of two ancient populations represented by two major East Asian specific Y chromosome lineages, the O and D haplogroups.
PMCID: PMC2605740  PMID: 18959782
12.  The molecular basis of defective lens development in the Iberian mole 
BMC Biology  2008;6:44.
Fossorial mammals face natural selection pressures that differ from those acting on surface dwelling animals, and these may lead to reduced visual system development. We have studied eye development in a species of true mole, the Iberian mole Talpa occidentalis, and present the molecular basis of abnormal lens development. This is the first embryological developmental study of the eyes of any fossorial mammal at the molecular level.
Lens fibre differentiation is not completed in the Iberian mole. Although eye development starts normally (similar to other model species), defects are seen after closure of the lens vesicle. PAX6 is not down-regulated in developing lens fibre nuclei, as it is in other species, and there is ectopic expression of FOXE3, a putative downstream effector of PAX6, in some, but not all lens fibres. FOXE3-positive lens fibres continue to proliferate within the posterior compartment of the embryonic lens, but unlike in the mouse, no proliferation was detected anywhere in the postnatal mole lens. The undifferentiated status of the anterior epithelial cells was compromised, and most of them undergo apoptosis. Furthermore, β-crystallin and PROX1 expression patterns are abnormal and our data suggest that genes encoding β-crystallins are not directly regulated by PAX6, c-MAF and PROX1 in the Iberian mole, as they are in other model vertebrates.
In other model vertebrates, genetic pathways controlling lens development robustly compartmentalise the lens into a simple, undifferentiated, proliferative anterior epithelium, and quiescent, anuclear, terminally differentiated posterior lens fibres. These pathways are not as robust in the mole, and lead to loss of the anterior epithelial phenotype and only partial differentiation of the lens fibres, which continue to express 'epithelial' genes. Paradigms of genetic regulatory networks developed in other vertebrates appear not to hold true for the Iberian mole.
PMCID: PMC2587461  PMID: 18939978
13.  Identification of the Weevil immune genes and their expression in the bacteriome tissue 
BMC Biology  2008;6:43.
Persistent infections with mutualistic intracellular bacteria (endosymbionts) are well represented in insects and are considered to be a driving force in evolution. However, while pathogenic relationships have been well studied over the last decades very little is known about the recognition of the endosymbionts by the host immune system and the mechanism that limits their infection to the bacteria-bearing host tissue (the bacteriome).
To study bacteriome immune specificity, we first identified immune-relevant genes of the weevil Sitophilus zeamais by using suppressive subtractive hybridization (SSH) and then analyzed their full-length coding sequences obtained by RACE-PCR experiments. We then measured immune gene expression in the bacteriome, and in the aposymbiotic larvae following S. zeamais primary endosymbiont (SZPE) injection into the hemolymph, in order to consider the questions of bacteriome immune specificity and the insect humoral response to symbionts. We show that larval challenge with the endosymbiont results in a significant induction of antibacterial peptide genes, providing evidence that, outside the bacteriome, SZPE are recognized as microbial intruders by the host. In the bacteriome, gene expression analysis shows the overexpression of one antibacterial peptide from the coleoptericin family and, intriguingly, homologs to genes described as immune modulators (that is, PGRP-LB, Tollip) were also shown to be highly expressed in the bacteriome.
The current data provide the first description of immune gene expression in the insect bacteriome. Compared with the insect humoral response to SZPE, the bacteriome expresses few genes among those investigated in this work. This local immune gene expression may help to maintain the endosymbiont in the bacteriome and prevent its invasion into insect tissues. Further investigations of the coleoptericin, the PGRP and the Tollip genes should elucidate the role of the host immune system in the maintenance and regulation of endosymbiosis.
PMCID: PMC2590597  PMID: 18925938
14.  The Caenorhabditis chemoreceptor gene families 
BMC Biology  2008;6:42.
Chemoreceptor proteins mediate the first step in the transduction of environmental chemical stimuli, defining the breadth of detection and conferring stimulus specificity. Animal genomes contain families of genes encoding chemoreceptors that mediate taste, olfaction, and pheromone responses. The size and diversity of these families reflect the biology of chemoperception in specific species.
Based on manual curation and sequence comparisons among putative G-protein-coupled chemoreceptor genes in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, we identified approximately 1300 genes and 400 pseudogenes in the 19 largest gene families, most of which fall into larger superfamilies. In the related species C. briggsae and C. remanei, we identified most or all genes in each of the 19 families. For most families, C. elegans has the largest number of genes and C. briggsae the smallest number, suggesting changes in the importance of chemoperception among the species. Protein trees reveal family-specific and species-specific patterns of gene duplication and gene loss. The frequency of strict orthologs varies among the families, from just over 50% in two families to less than 5% in three families. Several families include large species-specific expansions, mostly in C. elegans and C. remanei.
Chemoreceptor gene families in Caenorhabditis species are large and evolutionarily dynamic as a result of gene duplication and gene loss. These dynamics shape the chemoreceptor gene complements in Caenorhabditis species and define the receptor space available for chemosensory responses. To explain these patterns, we propose the gray pawn hypothesis: individual genes are of little significance, but the aggregate of a large number of diverse genes is required to cover a large phenotype space.
PMCID: PMC2576165  PMID: 18837995
15.  Resilin and chitinous cuticle form a composite structure for energy storage in jumping by froghopper insects 
BMC Biology  2008;6:41.
Many insects jump by storing and releasing energy in elastic structures within their bodies. This allows them to release large amounts of energy in a very short time to jump at very high speeds. The fastest of the insect jumpers, the froghopper, uses a catapult-like elastic mechanism to achieve their jumping prowess in which energy, generated by the slow contraction of muscles, is released suddenly to power rapid and synchronous movements of the hind legs. How is this energy stored?
The hind coxae of the froghopper are linked to the hinges of the ipsilateral hind wings by pleural arches, complex bow-shaped internal skeletal structures. They are built of chitinous cuticle and the rubber-like protein, resilin, which fluoresces bright blue when illuminated with ultra-violet light. The ventral and posterior end of this fluorescent region forms the thoracic part of the pivot with a hind coxa. No other structures in the thorax or hind legs show this blue fluorescence and it is not found in larvae which do not jump. Stimulating one trochanteral depressor muscle in a pattern that simulates its normal action, results in a distortion and forward movement of the posterior part of a pleural arch by 40 μm, but in natural jumping, the movement is at least 100 μm.
Calculations showed that the resilin itself could only store 1% to 2% of the energy required for jumping. The stiffer cuticular parts of the pleural arches could, however, easily meet all the energy storage needs. The composite structure therefore, combines the stiffness of the chitinous cuticle with the elasticity of resilin. Muscle contractions bend the chitinous cuticle with little deformation and therefore, store the energy needed for jumping, while the resilin rapidly returns its stored energy and thus restores the body to its original shape after a jump and allows repeated jumping.
PMCID: PMC2584104  PMID: 18826572
16.  Use of the viral 2A peptide for bicistronic expression in transgenic mice 
BMC Biology  2008;6:40.
Transgenic animals are widely used in biomedical research and biotechnology. Multicistronic constructs, in which several proteins are encoded by a single messenger RNA, are commonly used in genetically engineered animals. This is currently done by using an internal ribosomal entry site to separate the different coding regions. 2A peptides result in the co-translational 'cleavage' of proteins and are an attractive alternative to the internal ribosomal entry site. They are more reliable than the internal ribosomal entry site and lead to expression of multiple cistrons at equimolar levels. They work in a wide variety of eukaryotic cells, but to date have not been demonstrated to function in transgenic mice in an inheritable manner.
To test 2A function in transgenic mice and uncover any possible toxicity of widespread expression of the 2A peptide, we made a bicistronic reporter construct containing the coding sequence for a membrane localised red fluorescent protein (Myr-TdTomato) and a nuclear localised green fluorescent protein (H2B-GFP), separated by a 2A sequence. When this reporter is transfected into HeLa cells, the two fluorescent proteins correctly localise to mutually exclusive cellular compartments, demonstrating that the bicistronic construct is a reliable readout of 2A function. The two fluorescent proteins also correctly localise when the reporter is electroporated into chick neural tube cells. We made two independent transgenic mouse lines that express the bicistronic reporter ubiquitously. For both lines, transgenic mice are born in Mendelian frequencies and are found to be healthy and fertile. Myr-TdTomato and H2B-GFP segregate to mutually exclusive cellular compartments in all tissues examined from a broad range of developmental stages, ranging from embryo to adult. One transgenic line shows X-linked inheritance of the transgene and mosaic expression in females but uniform expression in males, indicating that the transgene has integrated into the X chromosome in this line.
The 2A peptide efficiently mediates co-translational cleavage in transgenic mice in which it has been inherited through the germ-line. Mice expressing it ubiquitously throughout development and into adulthood appear normal. It is therefore a viable tool for use in genetically engineered mice and represents a superior alternative to the widely used internal ribosomal entry site.
PMCID: PMC2553761  PMID: 18793381
17.  Docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids increase prion formation in neuronal cells 
BMC Biology  2008;6:39.
The transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, otherwise known as prion diseases, occur following the conversion of the cellular prion protein (PrPC) to an alternatively folded, disease-associated isoform (PrPSc). Recent studies suggest that this conversion occurs via a cholesterol-sensitive process, as cholesterol synthesis inhibitors reduced the formation of PrPSc and delayed the clinical phase of scrapie infection. Since polyunsaturated fatty acids also reduced cellular cholesterol levels we tested their effects on PrPSc formation in three prion-infected neuronal cell lines (ScGT1, ScN2a and SMB cells).
We report that treatment with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or the cholesterol synthesis inhibitor simvastatin reduced the amounts of free cholesterol in membrane extracts from prion-infected neuronal cells. Simvastatin reduced cholesterol production while DHA and EPA promoted the conversion of free cholesterol to cholesterol esters. Crucially, while simvastatin reduced PrPSc formation, both DHA and EPA significantly increased the amounts of PrPSc in these cells. Unlike simvastatin, the effects of DHA and EPA on PrPSc content were not reversed by stimulation of cholesterol synthesis with mevalonate. Treatment of ScGT1 cells with DHA and EPA also increased activation of cytoplasmic phospholipase A2 and prostaglandin E2 production. Finally, treatment of neuronal cells with DHA and EPA increased the amounts of PrPC expressed at the cell surface and significantly increased the half-life of biotinylated PrPC.
We report that although treatment with DHA or EPA significantly reduced the free cholesterol content of prion-infected cells they significantly increased PrPSc formation in three neuronal cell lines. DHA or EPA treatment of infected cells increased activation of phospholipase A2, a key enzyme in PrPSc formation, and altered the trafficking of PrPC. PrPC expression at the cell surface, a putative site for the PrPSc formation, was significantly increased, and the rate at which PrPC was degraded was reduced. Cholesterol depletion is seen as a potential therapeutic strategy for prion diseases. However, these results indicate that a greater understanding of the precise relationship between membrane cholesterol distribution, PrPC trafficking, cell activation and PrPSc formation is required before cholesterol manipulation can be considered as a prion therapeutic.
PMCID: PMC2556658  PMID: 18789130
18.  Viral cystatin evolution and three-dimensional structure modelling: A case of directional selection acting on a viral protein involved in a host-parasitoid interaction 
BMC Biology  2008;6:38.
In pathogens, certain genes encoding proteins that directly interact with host defences coevolve with their host and are subject to positive selection. In the lepidopteran host-wasp parasitoid system, one of the most original strategies developed by the wasps to defeat host defences is the injection of a symbiotic polydnavirus at the same time as the wasp eggs. The virus is essential for wasp parasitism success since viral gene expression alters the immune system and development of the host. As a wasp mutualist symbiont, the virus is expected to exhibit a reduction in genome complexity and evolve under wasp phyletic constraints. However, as a lepidopteran host pathogenic symbiont, the virus is likely undergoing strong selective pressures for the acquisition of new functions by gene acquisition or duplication. To understand the constraints imposed by this particular system on virus evolution, we studied a polydnavirus gene family encoding cyteine protease inhibitors of the cystatin superfamily.
We show that cystatins are the first bracovirus genes proven to be subject to strong positive selection within a host-parasitoid system. A generated three-dimensional model of Cotesia congregata bracovirus cystatin 1 provides a powerful framework to position positively selected residues and reveal that they are concentrated in the vicinity of actives sites which interact with cysteine proteases directly. In addition, phylogenetic analyses reveal two different cystatin forms which evolved under different selective constraints and are characterized by independent adaptive duplication events.
Positive selection acts to maintain cystatin gene duplications and induces directional divergence presumably to ensure the presence of efficient and adapted cystatin forms. Directional selection has acted on key cystatin active sites, suggesting that cystatins coevolve with their host target. We can strongly suggest that cystatins constitute major virulence factors, as was already proposed in previous functional studies.
PMCID: PMC2553070  PMID: 18783611
19.  Erythropoietin enhances hippocampal long-term potentiation and memory 
BMC Biology  2008;6:37.
Erythropoietin (EPO) improves cognition of human subjects in the clinical setting by as yet unknown mechanisms. We developed a mouse model of robust cognitive improvement by EPO to obtain the first clues of how EPO influences cognition, and how it may act on hippocampal neurons to modulate plasticity.
We show here that a 3-week treatment of young mice with EPO enhances long-term potentiation (LTP), a cellular correlate of learning processes in the CA1 region of the hippocampus. This treatment concomitantly alters short-term synaptic plasticity and synaptic transmission, shifting the balance of excitatory and inhibitory activity. These effects are accompanied by an improvement of hippocampus dependent memory, persisting for 3 weeks after termination of EPO injections, and are independent of changes in hematocrit. Networks of EPO-treated primary hippocampal neurons develop lower overall spiking activity but enhanced bursting in discrete neuronal assemblies. At the level of developing single neurons, EPO treatment reduces the typical increase in excitatory synaptic transmission without changing the number of synaptic boutons, consistent with prolonged functional silencing of synapses.
We conclude that EPO improves hippocampus dependent memory by modulating plasticity, synaptic connectivity and activity of memory-related neuronal networks. These mechanisms of action of EPO have to be further exploited for treating neuropsychiatric diseases.
PMCID: PMC2562991  PMID: 18782446
20.  Complex chloroplast RNA metabolism: just debugging the genetic programme? 
BMC Biology  2008;6:36.
The gene expression system of chloroplasts is far more complex than that of their cyanobacterial progenitor. This gain in complexity affects in particular RNA metabolism, specifically the transcription and maturation of RNA. Mature chloroplast RNA is generated by a plethora of nuclear-encoded proteins acquired or recruited during plant evolution, comprising additional RNA polymerases and sigma factors, and sequence-specific RNA maturation factors promoting RNA splicing, editing, end formation and translatability. Despite years of intensive research, we still lack a comprehensive explanation for this complexity.
We inspected the available literature and genome databases for information on components of RNA metabolism in land plant chloroplasts. In particular, new inventions of chloroplast-specific mechanisms and the expansion of some gene/protein families detected in land plants lead us to suggest that the primary function of the additional nuclear-encoded components found in chloroplasts is the transgenomic suppression of point mutations, fixation of which occurred due to an enhanced genetic drift exhibited by chloroplast genomes. We further speculate that a fast evolution of transgenomic suppressors occurred after the water-to-land transition of plants.
Our inspections indicate that several chloroplast-specific mechanisms evolved in land plants to remedy point mutations that occurred after the water-to-land transition. Thus, the complexity of chloroplast gene expression evolved to guarantee the functionality of chloroplast genetic information and may not, with some exceptions, be involved in regulatory functions.
PMCID: PMC2553071  PMID: 18755031
21.  Evolution of developmental roles of Pax2/5/8 paralogs after independent duplication in urochordate and vertebrate lineages 
BMC Biology  2008;6:35.
Gene duplication provides opportunities for lineage diversification and evolution of developmental novelties. Duplicated genes generally either disappear by accumulation of mutations (nonfunctionalization), or are preserved either by the origin of positively selected functions in one or both duplicates (neofunctionalization), or by the partitioning of original gene subfunctions between the duplicates (subfunctionalization). The Pax2/5/8 family of important developmental regulators has undergone parallel expansion among chordate groups. After the divergence of urochordate and vertebrate lineages, two rounds of independent gene duplications resulted in the Pax2, Pax5, and Pax8 genes of most vertebrates (the sister group of the urochordates), and an additional duplication provided the pax2a and pax2b duplicates in teleost fish. Separate from the vertebrate genome expansions, a duplication also created two Pax2/5/8 genes in the common ancestor of ascidian and larvacean urochordates.
To better understand mechanisms underlying the evolution of duplicated genes, we investigated, in the larvacean urochordate Oikopleura dioica, the embryonic gene expression patterns of Pax2/5/8 paralogs. We compared the larvacean and ascidian expression patterns to infer modular subfunctions present in the single pre-duplication Pax2/5/8 gene of stem urochordates, and we compared vertebrate and urochordate expression to infer the suite of Pax2/5/8 gene subfunctions in the common ancestor of olfactores (vertebrates + urochordates). Expression pattern differences of larvacean and ascidian Pax2/5/8 orthologs in the endostyle, pharynx and hindgut suggest that some ancestral gene functions have been partitioned differently to the duplicates in the two urochordate lineages. Novel expression in the larvacean heart may have resulted from the neofunctionalization of a Pax2/5/8 gene in the urochordates. Expression of larvacean Pax2/5/8 in the endostyle, in sites of epithelial remodeling, and in sensory tissues evokes like functions of Pax2, Pax5 and Pax8 in vertebrate embryos, and may indicate ancient origins for these functions in the chordate common ancestor.
Comparative analysis of expression patterns of chordate Pax2/5/8 duplicates, rooted on the single-copy Pax2/5/8 gene of amphioxus, whose lineage diverged basally among chordates, provides new insights into the evolution and development of the heart, thyroid, pharynx, stomodeum and placodes in chordates; supports the controversial conclusion that the atrial siphon of ascidians and the otic placode in vertebrates are homologous; and backs the notion that Pax2/5/8 functioned in ancestral chordates to engineer epithelial fusions and perforations, including gill slit openings.
PMCID: PMC2532684  PMID: 18721460
22.  Platypus globin genes and flanking loci suggest a new insertional model for beta-globin evolution in birds and mammals 
BMC Biology  2008;6:34.
Vertebrate alpha (α)- and beta (β)-globin gene families exemplify the way in which genomes evolve to produce functional complexity. From tandem duplication of a single globin locus, the α- and β-globin clusters expanded, and then were separated onto different chromosomes. The previous finding of a fossil β-globin gene (ω) in the marsupial α-cluster, however, suggested that duplication of the α-β cluster onto two chromosomes, followed by lineage-specific gene loss and duplication, produced paralogous α- and β-globin clusters in birds and mammals. Here we analyse genomic data from an egg-laying monotreme mammal, the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), to explore haemoglobin evolution at the stem of the mammalian radiation.
The platypus α-globin cluster (chromosome 21) contains embryonic and adult α- globin genes, a β-like ω-globin gene, and the GBY globin gene with homology to cytoglobin, arranged as 5'-ζ-ζ'-αD-α3-α2-α1-ω-GBY-3'. The platypus β-globin cluster (chromosome 2) contains single embryonic and adult globin genes arranged as 5'-ε-β-3'. Surprisingly, all of these globin genes were expressed in some adult tissues. Comparison of flanking sequences revealed that all jawed vertebrate α-globin clusters are flanked by MPG-C16orf35 and LUC7L, whereas all bird and mammal β-globin clusters are embedded in olfactory genes. Thus, the mammalian α- and β-globin clusters are orthologous to the bird α- and β-globin clusters respectively.
We propose that α- and β-globin clusters evolved from an ancient MPG-C16orf35-α-β-GBY-LUC7L arrangement 410 million years ago. A copy of the original β (represented by ω in marsupials and monotremes) was inserted into an array of olfactory genes before the amniote radiation (>315 million years ago), then duplicated and diverged to form orthologous clusters of β-globin genes with different expression profiles in different lineages.
PMCID: PMC2529266  PMID: 18657265
23.  Systematic comparison and reconstruction of sea urchin (Echinoidea) internal anatomy: a novel approach using magnetic resonance imaging 
BMC Biology  2008;6:33.
Traditional comparative morphological analyses and subsequent three-dimensional reconstructions suffer from a number of drawbacks. This is particularly evident in the case of soft tissue studies that are technically demanding, time-consuming, and often prone to produce artefacts. These problems can partly be overcome by employing non-invasive, destruction-free imaging techniques, in particular micro-computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging.
Here, we employed high-field magnetic resonance imaging techniques to gather numerous data from members of a major marine invertebrate taxon, the sea urchins (Echinoidea). For this model study, 13 of the 14 currently recognized high-ranking subtaxa (orders) of this group of animals were analyzed. Based on the acquired datasets, interactive three-dimensional models were assembled. Our analyses reveal that selected soft tissue characters can even be used for phylogenetic inferences in sea urchins, as exemplified by differences in the size and shape of the gastric caecum found in the Irregularia.
The main focus of our investigation was to explore the possibility to systematically visualize the internal anatomy of echinoids obtained from various museum collections. We show that, in contrast to classical preparative procedures, magnetic resonance imaging can give rapid, destruction-free access to morphological data from numerous specimens, thus extending the range of techniques available for comparative studies of invertebrate morphology.
PMCID: PMC2500006  PMID: 18651948
24.  A periodic pattern generator for dental diversity 
BMC Biology  2008;6:32.
Periodic patterning of iterative structures is a fundamental process during embryonic organization and development. Studies have shown how gene networks are employed to pattern butterfly eyespots, fly bristles and vertebrate epithelial appendages such as teeth, feathers, hair and mammary glands. Despite knowledge of how these features are organized, little is known about how diversity in periodic patterning is generated in nature. We address this problem through the molecular analysis of oral jaw dental diversity in Lake Malawi cichlids, where closely related species exhibit from 1 to 20 rows of teeth, with total teeth counts ranging from around 10 to 700.
We investigate the expression of conserved gene networks (involving bmp2, bmp4, eda, edar, fgf8, pax9, pitx2, runx2, shh and wnt7b) known to pattern iterative structures and teeth in other vertebrates. We show that spatiotemporal variation in expression pattern reflects adult morphological diversity among three closely related Malawi cichlid species. Combinatorial epithelial expression of pitx2 and shh appears to govern the competence both of initial tooth sites and future tooth rows. Epithelial wnt7b and mesenchymal eda are expressed in the inter-germ and inter-row regions, and likely regulate the spacing of these shh-positive units. Finally, we used chemical knockdown to demonstrate the fundamental role of hedgehog signalling and initial placode formation in the organization of the periodically patterned cichlid dental programme.
Coordinated patterns of gene expression differ among Malawi species and prefigure the future-ordered distribution of functional teeth of specific size and spacing. This variation in gene expression among species occurs early in the developmental programme for dental patterning. These data show how a complex multi-rowed vertebrate dentition is organized and how developmental tinkering of conserved gene networks during iterative pattern formation can impact upon the evolution of trophic novelty.
PMCID: PMC2496899  PMID: 18625062
25.  A cryptic promoter in the first exon of the SPG4 gene directs the synthesis of the 60-kDa spastin isoform 
BMC Biology  2008;6:31.
Mutations in SPG4 cause the most common form of autosomal dominant hereditary spastic paraplegia, a neurodegenerative disease characterized by weakness and spasticity of the lower limbs due to degeneration of the corticospinal tract. SPG4 encodes spastin, a microtubule-severing ATPase belonging to the AAA family. Two isoforms of spastin, 68 and 60 kDa, respectively, are variably abundant in tissues, show different subcellular localizations and interact with distinct molecules. The isoforms arise through alternative initiation of translation from two AUG codons in exon 1; however, it is unclear how regulation of their expression may be achieved.
We present data that rule out the hypothesis that a cap-independent mechanism may be involved in the translation of the 60-kDa spastin isoform. Instead, we provide evidence for a complex transcriptional regulation of SPG4 that involves both a TATA-less ubiquitous promoter and a cryptic promoter in exon 1. The cryptic promoter covers the 5'-UTR and overlaps with the coding region of the gene. By using promoter-less constructs in various experimental settings, we found that the cryptic promoter is active in HeLa, HEK293 and motoneuronal NSC34 cells but not in SH-SY-5Y neuroblastoma cells. We showed that the cryptic promoter directs the synthesis of a SPG4 transcript that contains a shorter 5'-UTR and translates the 60-kDa spastin isoform selectively. Two polymorphisms (S44L and P45Q), leading to an early onset severe form of hereditary spastic paraplegia when present in heterozygosity with a mutant allele, fall a few nucleotides downstream of the novel transcriptional start site, opening up the possibility that they may exert their modifier effect at the transcriptional level. We provide evidence that at least one of them decreases the activity of the cryptic promoter in luciferase assays.
We identified a cryptic promoter in exon 1 of the SPG4 gene that selectively drives the expression of the 60-kDa spastin isoform in a tissue-regulated manner. These data may have implications for the understanding of the biology of spastin and the pathogenic basis of hereditary spastic paraplegia.
PMCID: PMC2474578  PMID: 18613979

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