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1.  Brief inactivation of c-Myc is not sufficient for sustained regression of c-Myc-induced tumours of pancreatic islets and skin epidermis 
BMC Biology  2004;2:26.
Tumour regression observed in many conditional mouse models following oncogene inactivation provides the impetus to develop, and a platform to preclinically evaluate, novel therapeutics to inactivate specific oncogenes. Inactivating single oncogenes, such as c-Myc, can reverse even advanced tumours. Intriguingly, transient c-Myc inactivation proved sufficient for sustained osteosarcoma regression; the resulting osteocyte differentiation potentially explaining loss of c-Myc's oncogenic properties. But would this apply to other tumours?
We show that brief inactivation of c-Myc does not sustain tumour regression in two distinct tissue types; tumour cells in pancreatic islets and skin epidermis continue to avoid apoptosis after c-Myc reactivation, by virtue of Bcl-xL over-expression or a favourable microenvironment, respectively. Moreover, tumours progress despite reacquiring a differentiated phenotype and partial loss of vasculature during c-Myc inactivation. Interestingly, reactivating c-Myc in β-cell tumours appears to result not only in further growth of the tumour, but also re-expansion of the accompanying angiogenesis and more pronounced β-cell invasion (adenocarcinoma).
Given that transient c-Myc inactivation could under some circumstances produce sustained tumour regression, the possible application of this potentially less toxic strategy in treating other tumours has been suggested. We show that brief inactivation of c-Myc fails to sustain tumour regression in two distinct models of tumourigenesis: pancreatic islets and skin epidermis. These findings challenge the potential for cancer therapies aimed at transient oncogene inactivation, at least under those circumstances where tumour cell differentiation and alteration of epigenetic context fail to reinstate apoptosis. Together, these results suggest that treatment schedules will need to be informed by knowledge of the molecular basis and environmental context of any given cancer.
PMCID: PMC544575  PMID: 15613240
2.  Search for computational modules in the C. elegans brain 
BMC Biology  2004;2:25.
Does the C. elegans nervous system contain multi-neuron computational modules that perform stereotypical functions? We attempt to answer this question by searching for recurring multi-neuron inter-connectivity patterns in the C. elegans nervous system's wiring diagram.
Our statistical analysis reveals that some inter-connectivity patterns containing two, three and four (but not five) neurons are significantly over-represented relative to the expectations based on the statistics of smaller inter-connectivity patterns.
Over-represented patterns (or motifs) are candidates for computational modules that may perform stereotypical functions in the C. elegans nervous system. These modules may appear in other species and need to be investigated further.
PMCID: PMC539283  PMID: 15574204
3.  The docking protein Gab1 is the primary mediator of EGF-stimulated activation of the PI-3K/Akt cell survival pathway 
BMC Biology  2004;2:24.
Gab1 is a docking protein that recruits phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI-3 kinase) and other effector proteins in response to the activation of many receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs). As the autophosphorylation sites on EGF-receptor (EGFR) do not include canonical PI-3 kinase binding sites, it is thought that EGF stimulation of PI-3 kinase and its downstream effector Akt is mediated by an indirect mechanism.
We used fibroblasts isolated from Gab1-/- mouse embryos to explore the mechanism of EGF stimulation of the PI-3 kinase/Akt anti-apoptotic cell signaling pathway. We demonstrate that Gab1 is essential for EGF stimulation of PI-3 kinase and Akt in these cells and that these responses are mediated by complex formation between p85, the regulatory subunit of PI-3 kinase, and three canonical tyrosine phosphorylation sites on Gab1. Furthermore, complex formation between Gab1 and the protein tyrosine phosphatase Shp2 negatively regulates Gab1 mediated PI-3 kinase and Akt activation following EGF-receptor stimulation. We also demonstrate that tyrosine phosphorylation of ErbB3 may lead to recruitment and activation of PI-3 kinase and Akt in Gab1-/- MEFs.
The primary mechanism of EGF-induced stimulation of the PI-3 kinase/Akt anti-apoptotic pathway occurs via the docking protein Gab1. However, in cells expressing ErbB3, EGF and neuroregulin can stimulate PI-3 kinase and Akt activation in a Gab1-dependent or Gab1-independent manner.
PMCID: PMC534114  PMID: 15550174
4.  Acetylation of insulin receptor substrate-1 is permissive for tyrosine phosphorylation 
BMC Biology  2004;2:23.
Insulin receptor substrate (IRS) proteins are key moderators of insulin action. Their specific regulation determines downstream protein-protein interactions and confers specificity on growth factor signalling. Regulatory mechanisms that have been identified include phosphorylation of IRS proteins on tyrosine and serine residues and ubiquitination of lysine residues. This study investigated other potential molecular mechanisms of IRS-1 regulation.
Using the sos recruitment yeast two-hybrid system we found that IRS-1 and histone deacetylase 2 (HDAC2) interact in the cytoplasmic compartment of yeast cells. The interaction mapped to the C-terminus of IRS-1 and was confirmed through co-immunoprecipitation in vitro of recombinant IRS-1 and HDAC2. HDAC2 bound to IRS-1 in mammalian cells treated with phorbol ester or after prolonged treatment with insulin/IGF-1 and also in the livers of ob/ob mice but not PTP1B knockout mice. Thus, the association occurs under conditions of compromised insulin signalling. We found that IRS-1 is an acetylated protein, of which the acetylation is increased by treatment of cells with Trichostatin A (TSA), an inhibitor of HDAC activity. TSA-induced increases in acetylation of IRS-1 were concomitant with increases in tyrosine phosphorylation in response to insulin. These effects were confirmed using RNA interference against HDAC2, indicating that HDAC2 specifically prevents phosphorylation of IRS-1 by the insulin receptor.
Our results show that IRS-1 is an acetylated protein, a post-translational modification that has not been previously described. Acetylation of IRS-1 is permissive for tyrosine phosphorylation and facilitates insulin-stimulated signal transduction. Specific inhibition of HDAC2 may increase insulin sensitivity in otherwise insulin resistant conditions.
PMCID: PMC529456  PMID: 15522123
5.  Low dose pramipexole is neuroprotective in the MPTP mouse model of Parkinson's disease, and downregulates the dopamine transporter via the D3 receptor 
BMC Biology  2004;2:22.
Our aim was to determine if pramipexole, a D3 preferring agonist, effectively reduced dopamine neuron and fiber loss in the 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) mouse model when given at intraperitoneal doses corresponding to clinical doses. We also determined whether subchronic treatment with pramipexole regulates dopamine transporter function, thereby reducing intracellular transport of the active metabolite of MPTP, 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP+).
Ten 12-month old C57BL/6 mice were treated with MPTP (or saline) twice per day at 20 mg/kg s.c. (4 injections over 48 h). Mice were pretreated for 3 days and during the 2-day MPTP regimen with pramipexole (0.1 mg/kg/day) or saline. Stereological quantification of dopamine neuron number and optical density measurement of dopamine fiber loss were carried out at 1 week after treatment, using immunostaining for dopamine transporter (DAT) and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH). Additional wild-type (WT) and D3 receptor knockout (KO) mice were treated for 5 days with pramipexole (0.1 mg/kg/day) or vehicle. The kinetics of [3H]MPP+ and [3H]DA uptake (Vmax and Km) were determined 24 h later; and at 24 h and 14 days dopamine transporter density was measured by quantitative autoradiography.
Pramipexole treatment completely antagonized the neurotoxic effects of MPTP, as measured by substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area TH-immunoreactive cell counts. MPTP- induced loss of striatal innervation, as measured by DAT-immunoreactivity, was partially prevented by pramipexole, but not with regard to TH-IR. Pramipexole also reduced DAT- immunoreactivity in non-MPTP treated mice. Subchronic treatment with pramipexole lowered the Vmax for [3H]DA and [3H]MPP+ uptake into striatal synaptosomes of WT mice. Pramipexole treatment lowered Vmax in WT but not D3 KO mice; however, D3 KO mice had lower Vmax for [3H]DA uptake. There was no change in DAT number in WT with pramipexole treatment or D3 KO mice at 24 h post-treatment, but there was a reduction in WT-pramipexole treated and not in D3 KO mice at 14 days post-treatment.
These results suggest that protection occurs at clinically suitable doses of pramipexole. Protection could be due to a reduced amount of MPP+ taken up into DA terminals via DAT. D3 receptor plays an important role in this regulation of transporter uptake and availability.
PMCID: PMC524509  PMID: 15473914
6.  Normal histone modifications on the inactive X chromosome in ICF and Rett syndrome cells: implications for methyl-CpG binding proteins 
BMC Biology  2004;2:21.
In mammals, there is evidence suggesting that methyl-CpG binding proteins may play a significant role in histone modification through their association with modification complexes that can deacetylate and/or methylate nucleosomes in the proximity of methylated DNA. We examined this idea for the X chromosome by studying histone modifications on the X chromosome in normal cells and in cells from patients with ICF syndrome (Immune deficiency, Centromeric region instability, and Facial anomalies syndrome). In normal cells the inactive X has characteristic silencing type histone modification patterns and the CpG islands of genes subject to X inactivation are hypermethylated. In ICF cells, however, genes subject to X inactivation are hypomethylated on the inactive X due to mutations in the DNA methyltransferase (DNMT3B) genes. Therefore, if DNA methylation is upstream of histone modification, the histones on the inactive X in ICF cells should not be modified to a silent form. In addition, we determined whether a specific methyl-CpG binding protein, MeCP2, is necessary for the inactive X histone modification pattern by studying Rett syndrome cells which are deficient in MeCP2 function.
We show here that the inactive X in ICF cells, which appears to be hypomethylated at all CpG islands, exhibits normal histone modification patterns. In addition, in Rett cells with no functional MeCP2 methyl-CpG binding protein, the inactive X also exhibits normal histone modification patterns.
These data suggest that DNA methylation and the associated methyl-DNA binding proteins may not play a critical role in determining histone modification patterns on the mammalian inactive X chromosome at the sites analyzed.
PMCID: PMC521681  PMID: 15377381
7.  Intensive language training enhances brain plasticity in chronic aphasia 
BMC Biology  2004;2:20.
Focal clusters of slow wave activity in the delta frequency range (1–4 Hz), as measured by magnetencephalography (MEG), are usually located in the vicinity of structural damage in the brain. Such oscillations are usually considered pathological and indicative of areas incapable of normal functioning owing to deafferentation from relevant input sources. In the present study we investigated the change in Delta Dipole Density in 28 patients with chronic aphasia (>12 months post onset) following cerebrovascular stroke of the left hemisphere before and after intensive speech and language therapy (3 hours/day over 2 weeks).
Neuropsychologically assessed language functions improved significantly after training. Perilesional delta activity decreased after therapy in 16 of the 28 patients, while an increase was evident in 12 patients. The magnitude of change of delta activity in these areas correlated with the amount of change in language functions as measured by standardized language tests.
These results emphasize the significance of perilesional areas in the rehabilitation of aphasia even years after the stroke, and might reflect reorganisation of the language network that provides the basis for improved language functions after intensive training.
PMCID: PMC515310  PMID: 15331014
8.  The planetary biology of cytochrome P450 aromatases 
BMC Biology  2004;2:19.
Joining a model for the molecular evolution of a protein family to the paleontological and geological records (geobiology), and then to the chemical structures of substrates, products, and protein folds, is emerging as a broad strategy for generating hypotheses concerning function in a post-genomic world. This strategy expands systems biology to a planetary context, necessary for a notion of fitness to underlie (as it must) any discussion of function within a biomolecular system.
Here, we report an example of such an expansion, where tools from planetary biology were used to analyze three genes from the pig Sus scrofa that encode cytochrome P450 aromatases–enzymes that convert androgens into estrogens. The evolutionary history of the vertebrate aromatase gene family was reconstructed. Transition redundant exchange silent substitution metrics were used to interpolate dates for the divergence of family members, the paleontological record was consulted to identify changes in physiology that correlated in time with the change in molecular behavior, and new aromatase sequences from peccary were obtained. Metrics that detect changing function in proteins were then applied, including KA/KS values and those that exploit structural biology. These identified specific amino acid replacements that were associated with changing substrate and product specificity during the time of presumed adaptive change. The combined analysis suggests that aromatase paralogs arose in pigs as a result of selection for Suoidea with larger litters than their ancestors, and permitted the Suoidea to survive the global climatic trauma that began in the Eocene.
This combination of bioinformatics analysis, molecular evolution, paleontology, cladistics, global climatology, structural biology, and organic chemistry serves as a paradigm in planetary biology. As the geological, paleontological, and genomic records improve, this approach should become widely useful to make systems biology statements about high-level function for biomolecular systems.
PMCID: PMC515309  PMID: 15315709
9.  Bistability and hysteresis of the 'Secteur' differentiation are controlled by a two-gene locus in Nectria haematococca 
BMC Biology  2004;2:18.
Bistability and hysteresis are increasingly recognized as major properties of regulatory networks governing numerous biological phenomena, such as differentiation and cell cycle progression. The full scope of the underlying molecular mechanisms leading to bistability and hysteresis remains elusive. Nectria haemaotcocca, a saprophytic or pathogenic fungus with sexual reproduction, exhibits a bistable morphological modification characterized by a reduced growth rate and an intense pigmentation. Bistability is triggered by the presence or absence of σ, a cytoplasmic determinant. This determinant spreads in an infectious manner in the hyphae of the growing margin, insuring hysteresis of the differentiation.
Seven mutants specifically affected in the generation of σ were selected through two different screening strategies. The s1 and s2 mutations completely abolish the generation of σ and of its morphological expression, the Secteur. The remaining five mutations promote its constitutive generation, which determines an intense pigmentation but not growth alteration. The seven mutations map at the same locus, Ses (for 'Secteur-specific'). The s2 mutant was obtained by an insertional mutagenesis strategy, which permitted the cloning of the Ses locus. Sequence and transcription analysis reveals that Ses is composed of two closely linked genes, SesA, mutated in the s1 and s2 mutant strains, and SesB, mutated in the s* mutant strains. SesB shares sequence similarity with animal and fungal putative proteins, with potential esterase/lipase/thioesterase activity, whereas SesA is similar to proteins of unknown function present only in the filamentous fungi Fusarium graminearum and Podospora anserina.
The cloning of Ses provides evidence that a system encoded by two linked genes directs a bistable and hysteretic switch in a eukaryote. Atypical regulatory relations between the two proteins may account for the hysteresis of Secteur differentiation.
PMCID: PMC516043  PMID: 15312233
10.  Expression of PEG11 and PEG11AS transcripts in normal and callipyge sheep 
BMC Biology  2004;2:17.
The callipyge mutation is located within an imprinted gene cluster on ovine chromosome 18. The callipyge trait exhibits polar overdominant inheritance due to the fact that only heterozygotes inheriting a mutant paternal allele (paternal heterozygotes) have a phenotype of muscle hypertrophy, reduced fat and a more compact skeleton. The mutation is a single A to G transition in an intergenic region that results in the increased expression of several genes within the imprinted cluster without changing their parent-of-origin allele-specific expression.
There was a significant effect of genotype (p < 0.0001) on the transcript abundance of DLK1, PEG11, and MEG8 in the muscles of lambs with the callipyge allele. DLK1 and PEG11 transcript levels were elevated in the hypertrophied muscles of paternal heterozygous animals relative to animals of the other three genotypes. The PEG11 locus produces a single 6.5 kb transcript and two smaller antisense strand transcripts, referred to as PEG11AS, in skeletal muscle. PEG11AS transcripts were detectable over a 5.5 kb region beginning 1.2 kb upstream of the PEG11 start codon and spanning the entire open reading frame. Analysis of PEG11 expression by quantitative PCR shows a 200-fold induction in the hypertrophied muscles of paternal heterozygous animals and a 13-fold induction in homozygous callipyge animals. PEG11 transcripts were 14-fold more abundant than PEG11AS transcripts in the gluteus medius of paternal heterozygous animals. PEG11AS transcripts were expressed at higher levels than PEG11 transcripts in the gluteus medius of animals of the other three genotypes.
The effect of the callipyge mutation has been to alter the expression of DLK1, GTL2, PEG11 and MEG8 in the hypertrophied skeletal muscles. Transcript abundance of DLK1 and PEG11 was highest in paternal heterozygous animals and exhibited polar overdominant gene expression patterns; therefore, both genes are candidates for causing skeletal muscle hypertrophy. There was unique relationship of PEG11 and PEG11AS transcript abundance in the paternal heterozygous animals that suggests a RNA interference mechanism may have a role in PEG11 gene regulation and polar overdominance in callipyge sheep.
PMCID: PMC514575  PMID: 15298706
11.  A multistage theory of age-specific acceleration in human mortality 
BMC Biology  2004;2:16.
Humans die at an increasing rate until late in life, when mortality rates level off. The causes of the late-life mortality plateau have been debated extensively over the past few years. Here, I examine mortality patterns separately for each of the leading causes of death. The different causes of death show distinct mortality patterns, providing some clues about the varying acceleration of mortality at different ages.
I examine mortality patterns by first plotting the data of mortality rate versus age on a log-log scale. The slope of the age-specific mortality rate at each age is the age-specific acceleration of mortality. About one-half of total deaths have causes with similar shapes for the age-specific acceleration of mortality: a steady rise in acceleration from midlife until a well-defined peak at 80 years, followed by a nearly linear decline in acceleration. This first group of causes includes heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and accidental deaths. A second group, accounting for about one-third of all deaths, follows a different pattern of age-specific acceleration. These diseases show an approximately linear rise in acceleration to a peak at 35–45 years of age, followed by a steep and steady decline in acceleration for the remainder of life. This second group includes cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and liver disease. I develop a multistage model of disease progression to explain the observed patterns of mortality acceleration.
A multistage model of disease progression can explain both the early-life increase and late-life decrease in mortality acceleration. An early-life rise in acceleration may be caused by increasing rates of transition between stages as individuals grow older. The late-life decline in acceleration may be caused by progression through earlier stages, leaving only a few stages remaining for older individuals.
PMCID: PMC471577  PMID: 15242520
12.  Inter-genomic displacement via lateral gene transfer of bacterial trp operons in an overall context of vertical genealogy 
BMC Biology  2004;2:15.
The growing conviction that lateral gene transfer plays a significant role in prokaryote genealogy opens up a need for comprehensive evaluations of gene-enzyme systems on a case-by-case basis. Genes of tryptophan biosynthesis are frequently organized as whole-pathway operons, an attribute that is expected to facilitate multi-gene transfer in a single step. We have asked whether events of lateral gene transfer are sufficient to have obscured our ability to track the vertical genealogy that underpins tryptophan biosynthesis.
In 47 complete-genome Bacteria, the genes encoding the seven catalytic domains that participate in primary tryptophan biosynthesis were distinguished from any paralogs or xenologs engaged in other specialized functions. A reliable list of orthologs with carefully ascertained functional roles has thus been assembled and should be valuable as an annotation resource. The protein domains associated with primary tryptophan biosynthesis were then concatenated, yielding single amino-acid sequence strings that represent the entire tryptophan pathway. Lateral gene transfer of several whole-pathway trp operons was demonstrated by use of phylogenetic analysis. Lateral gene transfer of partial-pathway trp operons was also shown, with newly recruited genes functioning either in primary biosynthesis (rarely) or specialized metabolism (more frequently).
(i) Concatenated tryptophan protein trees are congruent with 16S rRNA subtrees provided that the genomes represented are of sufficiently close phylogenetic spacing. There are currently seven tryptophan congruency groups in the Bacteria. Recognition of a succession of others can be expected in the near future, but ultimately these should coalesce to a single grouping that parallels the 16S rRNA tree (except for cases of lateral gene transfer). (ii) The vertical trace of evolution for tryptophan biosynthesis can be deduced. The daunting complexities engendered by paralogy, xenology, and idiosyncrasies of nomenclature at this point in time have necessitated an expert-assisted manual effort to achieve a correct analysis. Once recognized and sorted out, paralogy and xenology can be viewed as features that enrich evolutionary histories.
PMCID: PMC471576  PMID: 15214963
13.  Segmental identity and cerebellar granule cell induction in rhombomere 1 
BMC Biology  2004;2:14.
Cerebellar granule cell precursors are specifically generated within the hindbrain segment, rhombomere 1, which is bounded rostrally by the midbrain/hindbrain isthmus and caudally by the boundary of the Hoxa2 expression domain. While graded signals from the isthmus have a demonstrable patterning role within this region, the significance of segmental identity for neuronal specification within rhombomere 1 is unexplored. We examined the response of granule cell precursors to the overexpression of Hoxa2, which normally determines patterns of development specific to the hindbrain. How much does the development of the cerebellum, a midbrain/hindbrain structure, reflect its neuromeric origin as a hindbrain segment?
We show that a Gbx2-positive, Otx2-/Hoxa2-negative territory corresponding to rhombomere 1 forms prior to an identifiable isthmic organiser. Early global overexpression of Hoxa2 at embryonic day 0 has no effect on the expression of isthmic signalling molecules or the allocation of rhombomere 1 territory, but selectively results in the loss of granule cell markers at embryonic day 6 and the depletion of cell bodies from the external granule cell layer. By comparison the trochlear nucleus and locus coeruleus form normally in ventral rhombomere 1 under these conditions. Microsurgery, coupled with electroporation, to target Hoxa2 overexpression to rhombic lip precursors, reveals a profound, autonomous respecification of migration. Rhombic lip derivatives, normally destined to occupy the external granule cell layer, violate the cerebellar boundary to form a ventrolateral nucleus in a position comparable to that occupied by rhombic lip derived neurons in rhombomere 2.
Different overexpression strategies reveal that the recognition of migration cues by granule cell precursors is dependent on their identity as rhombomere 1 derivatives. Segmental patterning cues operate autonomously within the rhombic lip precursor pool. By contrast, a subset of coextensive nuclei is refractory to ectopic Hoxa2 and is presumably induced solely by isthmic organiser activity. Thus, graded (isthmic) and segmental mechanisms may operate exclusively of one another in the specification of different neuronal populations within rhombomere 1. The early designation of an Otx2-negative, Hoxa2-negative region, prior to the appearance of the isthmic organiser, is a key initial step in the specification of the cerebellum.
PMCID: PMC446226  PMID: 15198802
14.  How many novel eukaryotic 'kingdoms'? Pitfalls and limitations of environmental DNA surveys 
BMC Biology  2004;2:13.
Over the past few years, the use of molecular techniques to detect cultivation-independent, eukaryotic diversity has proven to be a powerful approach. Based on small-subunit ribosomal RNA (SSU rRNA) gene analyses, these studies have revealed the existence of an unexpected variety of new phylotypes. Some of them represent novel diversity in known eukaryotic groups, mainly stramenopiles and alveolates. Others do not seem to be related to any molecularly described lineage, and have been proposed to represent novel eukaryotic kingdoms. In order to review the evolutionary importance of this novel high-level eukaryotic diversity critically, and to test the potential technical and analytical pitfalls and limitations of eukaryotic environmental DNA surveys (EES), we analysed 484 environmental SSU rRNA gene sequences, including 81 new sequences from sediments of the small river, the Seymaz (Geneva, Switzerland).
Based on a detailed screening of an exhaustive alignment of eukaryotic SSU rRNA gene sequences and the phylogenetic re-analysis of previously published environmental sequences using Bayesian methods, our results suggest that the number of novel higher-level taxa revealed by previously published EES was overestimated. Three main sources of errors are responsible for this situation: (1) the presence of undetected chimeric sequences; (2) the misplacement of several fast-evolving sequences; and (3) the incomplete sampling of described, but yet unsequenced eukaryotes. Additionally, EES give a biased view of the diversity present in a given biotope because of the difficult amplification of SSU rRNA genes in some taxonomic groups.
Environmental DNA surveys undoubtedly contribute to reveal many novel eukaryotic lineages, but there is no clear evidence for a spectacular increase of the diversity at the kingdom level. After re-analysis of previously published data, we found only five candidate lineages of possible novel high-level eukaryotic taxa, two of which comprise several phylotypes that were found independently in different studies. To ascertain their taxonomic status, however, the organisms themselves have now to be identified.
PMCID: PMC428588  PMID: 15176975
15.  The three-dimensional organization of telomeres in the nucleus of mammalian cells 
BMC Biology  2004;2:12.
The observation of multiple genetic markers in situ by optical microscopy and their relevance to the study of three-dimensional (3D) chromosomal organization in the nucleus have been greatly developed in the last decade. These methods are important in cancer research because cancer is characterized by multiple alterations that affect the modulation of gene expression and the stability of the genome. It is, therefore, essential to analyze the 3D genome organization of the interphase nucleus in both normal and cancer cells.
We describe a novel approach to study the distribution of all telomeres inside the nucleus of mammalian cells throughout the cell cycle. It is based on 3D telomere fluorescence in situ hybridization followed by quantitative analysis that determines the telomeres' distribution in the nucleus throughout the cell cycle. This method enables us to determine, for the first time, that telomere organization is cell-cycle dependent, with assembly of telomeres into a telomeric disk in the G2 phase. In tumor cells, the 3D telomere organization is distorted and aggregates are formed.
The results emphasize a non-random and dynamic 3D nuclear telomeric organization and its importance to genomic stability. Based on our findings, it appears possible to examine telomeric aggregates suggestive of genomic instability in individual interphase nuclei and tissues without the need to examine metaphases. Such new avenues of monitoring genomic instability could potentially impact on cancer biology, genetics, diagnostic innovations and surveillance of treatment response in medicine.
PMCID: PMC425602  PMID: 15176976
16.  Evidence for interplay among yeast replicative DNA polymerases alpha, delta and epsilon from studies of exonuclease and polymerase active site mutations 
BMC Biology  2004;2:11.
DNA polymerase ε (Pol ε) is essential for S-phase replication, DNA damage repair and checkpoint control in yeast. A pol2-Y831A mutation leading to a tyrosine to alanine change in the Pol ε active site does not cause growth defects and confers a mutator phenotype that is normally subtle but strong in a mismatch repair-deficient strain. Here we investigate the mechanism responsible for the mutator effect.
Purified four-subunit Y831A Pol ε turns over more deoxynucleoside triphosphates to deoxynucleoside monophosphates than does wild-type Pol ε, suggesting altered coordination between the polymerase and exonuclease active sites. The pol2-Y831A mutation suppresses the mutator effect of the pol2-4 mutation in the exonuclease active site that abolishes proofreading by Pol ε, as measured in haploid strain with the pol2-Y831A,4 double mutation. Analysis of mutation rates in diploid strains reveals that the pol2-Y831A allele is recessive to pol2-4. In addition, the mutation rates of strains with the pol2-4 mutation in combination with active site mutator mutations in Pol δ and Pol α suggest that Pol ε may proofread certain errors made by Pol α and Pol δ during replication in vivo.
Our data suggest that Y831A replacement in Pol ε reduces replication fidelity and its participation in chromosomal replication, but without eliminating an additional function that is essential for viability. This suggests that other polymerases can substitute for certain functions of polymerase ε.
PMCID: PMC434536  PMID: 15163346
17.  Structure of GlgS from Escherichia coli suggests a role in protein–protein interactions 
BMC Biology  2004;2:10.
The Escherichia coli protein GlgS is up-regulated in response to starvation stress and its overexpression was shown to stimulate glycogen synthesis.
We solved the structure of GlgS from E. coli, a member of an enterobacterial protein family. The protein structure represents a bundle of three α-helices with a short hydrophobic helix sandwiched between two long amphipathic helices.
GlgS shows structural homology to Huntingtin, elongation factor 3, protein phosphatase 2A, TOR1 motif domains and tetratricopeptide repeats, suggesting a possible role in protein–protein interactions.
PMCID: PMC420497  PMID: 15161493
NMR structure; GlgS; Escherichia coli; glycogen synthesis; protein–protein interactions.
18.  The functional organization of mitochondrial genomes in human cells 
BMC Biology  2004;2:9.
We analyzed the organization and function of mitochondrial DNA in a stable human cell line (ECV304, which is also known as T-24) containing mitochondria tagged with the yellow fluorescent protein.
Mitochondrial DNA is organized in ~475 discrete foci containing 6–10 genomes. These foci (nucleoids) are tethered directly or indirectly through mitochondrial membranes to kinesin, marked by KIF5B, and microtubules in the surrounding cytoplasm. In living cells, foci have an apparent diffusion constant of 1.1 × 10-3 μm2/s, and mitochondria always split next to a focus to distribute all DNA to one daughter. The kinetics of replication and transcription (monitored by immunolabelling after incorporating bromodeoxyuridine or bromouridine) reveal that each genome replicates independently of others in a focus, and that newly-made RNA remains in a focus (residence half-time ~43 min) long after it has been made. This mitochondrial RNA colocalizes with components of the cytoplasmic machinery that makes and imports nuclear-encoded proteins – that is, a ribosomal protein (S6), a nascent peptide associated protein (NAC), and the translocase in the outer membrane (Tom22).
The results suggest that clusters of mitochondrial genomes organize the translation machineries on both sides of the mitochondrial membranes. Then, proteins encoded by the nuclear genome and destined for the mitochondria will be made close to mitochondrial-encoded proteins so that they can be assembled efficiently into mitochondrial complexes.
PMCID: PMC425603  PMID: 15157274
19.  Selection of functional mutations in the U5-IR stem and loop regions of the Rous sarcoma virus genome 
BMC Biology  2004;2:8.
The 5' end of the Rous sarcoma virus (RSV) RNA around the primer-binding site forms a series of RNA secondary stem/loop structures (U5-IR stem, TψC interaction region, U5-leader stem) that are required for efficient initiation of reverse transcription. The U5-IR stem and loop also encode the U5 integrase (IN) recognition sequence at the level of DNA such that this region has overlapping biological functions in reverse transcription and integration.
We have investigated the ability of RSV to tolerate mutations in and around the U5 IR stem and loop. Through the use of viral libraries with blocks of random sequence, we have screened for functional mutants in vivo, growing the virus libraries in turkey embryo fibroblasts. The library representing the U5-IR stem rapidly selects for clones that maintain the structure of the stem, and is subsequently overtaken by wild type sequence. In contrast, in the library representing the U5-IR loop, wild type sequence is found after five rounds of infection but it does not dominate the virus pool, indicating that the mutant sequences identified are able to replicate at or near wild type levels.
These results indicate that the region of the RNA genome in U5 adjacent to the PBS tolerates much sequence variation even though it is required for multiple biological functions in replication. The in vivo selection method utilized in this study was capable of detecting complex patterns of selection as well as identifying biologically relevant viral mutants.
PMCID: PMC428589  PMID: 15153244
20.  PI3 kinase is important for Ras, MEK and Erk activation of Epo-stimulated human erythroid progenitors 
BMC Biology  2004;2:7.
Erythropoietin is a multifunctional cytokine which regulates the number of erythrocytes circulating in mammalian blood. This is crucial in order to maintain an appropriate oxygen supply throughout the body. Stimulation of primary human erythroid progenitors (PEPs) with erythropoietin (Epo) leads to the activation of the mitogenic kinases (MEKs and Erks). How this is accomplished mechanistically remained unclear.
Biochemical studies with human cord blood-derived PEPs now show that Ras and the class Ib enzyme of the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI3K) family, PI3K gamma, are activated in response to minimal Epo concentrations. Surprisingly, three structurally different PI3K inhibitors block Ras, MEK and Erk activation in PEPs by Epo. Furthermore, Erk activation in PEPs is insensitive to the inhibition of Raf kinases but suppressed upon PKC inhibition. In contrast, Erk activation induced by stem cell factor, which activates c-Kit in the same cells, is sensitive to Raf inhibition and insensitive to PI3K and PKC inhibitors.
These unexpected findings contrast with previous results in human primary cells using Epo at supraphysiological concentrations and open new doors to eventually understanding how low Epo concentrations mediate the moderate proliferation of erythroid progenitors under homeostatic blood oxygen levels. They indicate that the basal activation of MEKs and Erks in PEPs by minimal concentrations of Epo does not occur through the classical cascade Shc/Grb2/Sos/Ras/Raf/MEK/Erk. Instead, MEKs and Erks are signal mediators of PI3K, probably the recently described PI3K gamma, through a Raf-independent signaling pathway which requires PKC activity. It is likely that higher concentrations of Epo that are induced by hypoxia, for example, following blood loss, lead to additional mitogenic signals which greatly accelerate erythroid progenitor proliferation.
PMCID: PMC419721  PMID: 15149544
21.  Evaluation of developmental phenotypes produced by morpholino antisense targeting of a sea urchin Runx gene 
BMC Biology  2004;2:6.
Runx transcription factors are important regulators of metazoan development. The sea urchin Runx gene SpRunt was previously identified as a trans-activator of the CyIIIa actin gene, a differentiation marker of larval aboral ectoderm. Here we extend the functional analysis of SpRunt, using morpholino antisense oligonucleotides (morpholinos) to interfere with SpRunt expression in the embryo.
The developmental effects of four different SpRunt-specific morpholinos were evaluated. The two morpholinos most effective at knocking down SpRunt produce an identical mitotic catastrophe phenotype at late cleavage stage that is an artifact of coincidental mis-targeting to histone mRNA, providing a cautionary example of the insufficiency of two different morpholinos as a control for specificity. The other two morpholinos produce gastrula stage proliferation and differentiation defects that are rescued by exogenous SpRunt mRNA. The expression of 22 genes involved in cell proliferation and differentiation was analyzed in the latter embryos by quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Knockdown of SpRunt was found to perturb the expression of differentiation markers in all of the major tissue territories as well as the expression of cell cycle control genes, including cyclin B and cyclin D.
SpRunt is essential for embryonic development, and is required globally to coordinate cell proliferation and differentiation.
PMCID: PMC419381  PMID: 15132741
22.  A single-nucleotide polymorphism in the human p27kip1 gene (-838C>A) affects basal promoter activity and the risk of myocardial infarction 
BMC Biology  2004;2:5.
Excessive proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells and leukocytes within the artery wall is a major event in the development of atherosclerosis. The growth suppressor p27kip1 associates with several cyclin-dependent kinase/cyclin complexes, thereby abrogating their capacity to induce progression through the cell cycle. Recent studies have implicated p27kip1 in the control of neointimal hyperplasia. For instance, p27kip1 ablation in apolipoprotein-E-null mice enhanced arterial cell proliferation and accelerated atherogenesis induced by dietary cholesterol. Therefore, p27kip1 is a candidate gene to modify the risk of developing atherosclerosis and associated ischaemic events (i.e., myocardial infarction and stroke).
In this study we found three common single-nucleotide polymorphisms in the human p27kip1 gene (+326T>G [V109G], -79C>T, and -838C>A). The frequency of -838A carriers was significantly increased in myocardial infarction patients compared to healthy controls (odds ratio [OR] = 1.73, 95% confidence interval [95%CI] = 1.12–2.70). In addition, luciferase reporter constructs driven by the human p27kip1 gene promoter containing A at position -838 had decreased basal transcriptional activity when transiently transfected in Jurkat cells, compared with constructs bearing C in -838 (P = 0.04).
These data suggest that -838A is associated with reduced p27kip1 promoter activity and increased risk of myocardial infarction.
PMCID: PMC400507  PMID: 15061869
myocardial infarction; p27kip1; single-nucleotide polymorphisms
23.  Alterations at the peptidyl transferase centre of the ribosome induced by the synergistic action of the streptogramins dalfopristin and quinupristin 
BMC Biology  2004;2:4.
The bacterial ribosome is a primary target of several classes of antibiotics. Investigation of the structure of the ribosomal subunits in complex with different antibiotics can reveal the mode of inhibition of ribosomal protein synthesis. Analysis of the interactions between antibiotics and the ribosome permits investigation of the specific effect of modifications leading to antimicrobial resistances.
Streptogramins are unique among the ribosome-targeting antibiotics because they consist of two components, streptogramins A and B, which act synergistically. Each compound alone exhibits a weak bacteriostatic activity, whereas the combination can act bactericidal. The streptogramins A display a prolonged activity that even persists after removal of the drug. However, the mode of activity of the streptogramins has not yet been fully elucidated, despite a plethora of biochemical and structural data.
The investigation of the crystal structure of the 50S ribosomal subunit from Deinococcus radiodurans in complex with the clinically relevant streptogramins quinupristin and dalfopristin reveals their unique inhibitory mechanism. Quinupristin, a streptogramin B compound, binds in the ribosomal exit tunnel in a similar manner and position as the macrolides, suggesting a similar inhibitory mechanism, namely blockage of the ribosomal tunnel. Dalfopristin, the corresponding streptogramin A compound, binds close to quinupristin directly within the peptidyl transferase centre affecting both A- and P-site occupation by tRNA molecules.
The crystal structure indicates that the synergistic effect derives from direct interaction between both compounds and shared contacts with a single nucleotide, A2062. Upon binding of the streptogramins, the peptidyl transferase centre undergoes a significant conformational transition, which leads to a stable, non-productive orientation of the universally conserved U2585. Mutations of this rRNA base are known to yield dominant lethal phenotypes. It seems, therefore, plausible to conclude that the conformational change within the peptidyl transferase centre is mainly responsible for the bactericidal activity of the streptogramins and the post-antibiotic inhibition of protein synthesis.
PMCID: PMC400760  PMID: 15059283
24.  Basal jawed vertebrate phylogeny inferred from multiple nuclear DNA-coded genes 
BMC Biology  2004;2:3.
Phylogenetic analyses of jawed vertebrates based on mitochondrial sequences often result in confusing inferences which are obviously inconsistent with generally accepted trees. In particular, in a hypothesis by Rasmussen and Arnason based on mitochondrial trees, cartilaginous fishes have a terminal position in a paraphyletic cluster of bony fishes. No previous analysis based on nuclear DNA-coded genes could significantly reject the mitochondrial trees of jawed vertebrates.
We have cloned and sequenced seven nuclear DNA-coded genes from 13 vertebrate species. These sequences, together with sequences available from databases including 13 jawed vertebrates from eight major groups (cartilaginous fishes, bichir, chondrosteans, gar, bowfin, teleost fishes, lungfishes and tetrapods) and an outgroup (a cyclostome and a lancelet), have been subjected to phylogenetic analyses based on the maximum likelihood method.
Cartilaginous fishes have been inferred to be basal to other jawed vertebrates, which is consistent with the generally accepted view. The minimum log-likelihood difference between the maximum likelihood tree and trees not supporting the basal position of cartilaginous fishes is 18.3 ± 13.1. The hypothesis by Rasmussen and Arnason has been significantly rejected with the minimum log-likelihood difference of 123 ± 23.3. Our tree has also shown that living holosteans, comprising bowfin and gar, form a monophyletic group which is the sister group to teleost fishes. This is consistent with a formerly prevalent view of vertebrate classification, although inconsistent with both of the current morphology-based and mitochondrial sequence-based trees. Furthermore, the bichir has been shown to be the basal ray-finned fish. Tetrapods and lungfish have formed a monophyletic cluster in the tree inferred from the concatenated alignment, being consistent with the currently prevalent view. It also remains possible that tetrapods are more closely related to ray-finned fishes than to lungfishes.
PMCID: PMC387836  PMID: 15070407
25.  Human glutaminyl cyclase and bacterial zinc aminopeptidase share a common fold and active site 
BMC Biology  2004;2:2.
Glutaminyl cyclase (QC) forms the pyroglutamyl residue at the amino terminus of numerous secretory peptides and proteins. We previously proposed the mammalian QC has some features in common with zinc aminopeptidases. We now have generated a structural model for human QC based on the aminopeptidase fold (pdb code 1AMP) and mutated the apparent active site residues to assess their role in QC catalysis.
The structural model proposed here for human QC, deposited in the protein databank as 1MOI, is supported by a variety of fold prediction programs, by the circular dichroism spectrum, and by the presence of the disulfide. Mutagenesis of the six active site residues present in both 1AMP and QC reveal essential roles for the two histidines (140 and 330, QC numbering) and the two glutamates (201 and 202), while the two aspartates (159 and 248) appear to play no catalytic role. ICP-MS analysis shows less than stoichiometric zinc (0.3:1) in the purified enzyme.
We conclude that human pituitary glutaminyl cyclase and bacterial zinc aminopeptidase share a common fold and active site residues. In contrast to the aminopeptidase, however, QC does not appear to require zinc for enzymatic activity.
PMCID: PMC368447  PMID: 15028118

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