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1.  Targeting of highly conserved Dengue virus sequences with anti-Dengue virus trans-splicing group I introns 
BMC Molecular Biology  2010;11:84.
Dengue viruses (DENV) are one of the most important viral diseases in the world with approximately 100 million infections and 200,000 deaths each year. The current lack of an approved tetravalent vaccine and ineffective insecticide control measures warrant a search for alternatives to effectively combat DENV. The trans-splicing variant of the Tetrahymena thermophila group I intron catalytic RNA, or ribozyme, is a powerful tool for post-transcriptional RNA modification. The nature of the ribozyme and the predictability with which it can be directed makes it a powerful tool for modifying RNA in nearly any cell type without the need for genome-altering gene therapy techniques or dependence on native cofactors.
Several anti-DENV Group I trans-splicing introns (αDENV-GrpIs) were designed and tested for their ability to target DENV-2 NGC genomes in situ. We have successfully targeted two different uracil bases on the positive sense genomic strand within the highly conserved 5'-3' cyclization sequence (CS) region common to all serotypes of DENV with our αDENV-GrpIs. Our ribozymes have demonstrated ability to specifically trans-splice a new RNA sequence downstream of the targeted site in vitro and in transfected insect cells as analyzed by firefly luciferase and RT-PCR assays. The effectiveness of these αDENV-GrpIs to target infecting DENV genomes is also validated in transfected or transformed Aedes mosquito cell lines upon infection with unattenuated DENV-2 NGC.
Analysis shows that our αDENV-GrpIs have the ability to effectively trans-splice the DENV genome in situ. Notably, these results show that the αDENV-GrpI 9v1, designed to be active against all forms of Dengue virus, effectively targeted the DENV-2 NGC genome in a sequence specific manner. These novel αDENV-GrpI introns provide a striking alternative to other RNA based approaches for the transgenic suppression of DENV in transformed mosquito cells and tissues.
PMCID: PMC3000392  PMID: 21078188
2.  Mutational analysis of highly conserved aspartate residues essential to the catalytic core of the piggyBac transposase 
The piggyBac mobile element is quickly gaining popularity as a tool for the transgenesis of many eukaryotic organisms. By studying the transposase which catalyzes the movement of piggyBac, we may be able to modify this vector system to make it a more effective transgenesis tool. In a previous publication, Sarkar A, Sim C, Hong YS, Hogan JR, Fraser MJ, Robertson HM, and Collins FH have proposed the presence of the widespread 'DDE/DDD' motif for piggyBac at amino acid positions D268, D346, and D447.
This study utilizes directed mutagenesis and plasmid-based mobility assays to assess the importance of these residues as the catalytic core of the piggyBac transposase. We have functionally analyzed individual point-mutations with respect to charge and physical size in all three proposed residues of the 'DDD' motif as well as another nearby, highly conserved aspartate at D450. All of our mutations had a significant effect on excision frequency in S2 cell cultures. We have also aligned the piggyBac transposase to other close family members, both functional and non-functional, in an attempt to identify the most highly conserved regions and position a number of interesting features.
We found all the designated DDD aspartates reside in clusters of amino acids that conserved among piggyBac family transposase members. Our results indicate that all four aspartates are necessary, to one degree or another, for excision to occur in a cellular environment, but D450 seems to have a tolerance for a glutamate substitution. All mutants tested significantly decreased excision frequency in cell cultures when compared with the wild-type transposase.
PMCID: PMC2533014  PMID: 18694512
3.  Analysis of the piggyBac transposase reveals a functional nuclear targeting signal in the 94 c-terminal residues 
The piggyBac transposable element is a popular tool for germ-line transgenesis of eukaryotes. Despite this, little is known about the mechanism of transposition or the transposase (TPase) itself. A thorough understanding of just how piggyBac works may lead to more effective use of this important mobile element. A PSORTII analysis of the TPase amino acid sequence predicts a bipartite nuclear localization signal (NLS) near the c-terminus, just upstream of a putative ZnF (ZnF).
We fused the piggyBac TPase upstream of and in-frame with the enhanced yellow fluorescent protein (EYFP) in the Drosophila melanogaster inducible metallothionein protein. Using Drosophila Schneider 2 (S2) cells and the deep red fluorescent nuclear stain Draq5, we were able to track the pattern of piggyBac localization with a scanning confocal microscope 48 hours after induction with copper sulphate.
Through n and c-terminal truncations, targeted internal deletions, and specific amino acid mutations of the piggyBac TPase open reading frame, we found that not only is the PSORTII-predicted NLS required for the TPase to enter the nucleus of S2 cells, but there are additional requirements for negatively charged amino acids a short length upstream of this region for nuclear localization.
PMCID: PMC2532691  PMID: 18694511

Results 1-3 (3)