Characterization of neuronal connectivity is essential to understanding the architecture of the animal nervous system. Specific labeling and imaging techniques can visualize axons and dendrites of single nerve cells. Two-dimensional manual drawing has long been used to describe the morphology of labeled neuronal elements. However, quantitative morphometry, which is essential to understanding functional significance, cannot be readily extracted unless the detailed neuronal geometry is comprehensively reconstructed in three-dimensional space. We have recently applied an accurate and robust digital reconstruction system to cerebellar climbing fibers, which form highly dense and complex terminal arbors as one of the strongest presynaptic endings in the vertebrate nervous system. Resulting statistical analysis has shown how climbing fibers morphology is special in comparison to other axonal terminals. While thick primary branches may convey excitation quickly and faithfully to the far ends, thin tendril branches, which have a larger bouton density, form the majority of presynaptic outputs. This data set, now publicly available from NeuroMorpho.Org for further modeling and analysis, may constitute the first detailed and comprehensive digital reconstruction of the complete axonal terminal field with identified branch types and full accounting of boutons for any neuronal class in the vertebrate brain.
axon; terminal arbor; bouton; branches; tendril; cerebellar cortex; molecular layer; biotinylated dextran amine; rat
The tumor suppressor Dickkopf-3 (Dkk-3) is rather a unique molecule. Although it is related to the Dickkopf family of secreted Wnt antagonists, it does not directly inhibit Wnt signaling, and its function and mechanism of action are unknown. Endogenous Dkk-3 was recently found to be required to limit cell proliferation both in the developing mouse prostate and in 3D cultures of human prostate epithelial cells. Dkk-3 was further shown to modulate the response of normal prostate epithelial cells to transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β). These studies are consistent with a model in which Dkk-3 is required by normal cells to prevent the TGF-β switch from tumor suppressor to tumor promoter. Here, we discuss these findings and their potential impact on the development and progression of prostate cancer.
Dkk-3; TGF-β; acinar morphogenesis; prostate
Changes in cell shape are one of the driving forces of tissue morphogenesis. Contractile cytoskeletal assemblies based on actomyosin networks have emerged as a main player that can drive these changes. Different types of actomyosin networks have been identified, with distinct subcellular localizations, including apical junctional and apicomedial actomyosin. A further specialization of junctional actomyosin are so-called actomyosin ‘cables’, supracellular arrangements that appear to stretch over many cell diameters. Such actomyosin cables have been shown to serve several important functions, in processes such as wound healing, epithelial morphogenesis and maintenance of compartment identities during development. In the Drosophila embryo, we have recently identified a function for a circumferential actomyosin cable in assisting tube formation. Here, I will briefly summarize general principles that have emerged from the analysis of such cables.
Actomyosin; morphogenesis; cable; wound healing; Drosophila; anisotropy; development
We represent behaviorally relevant information in different spatial reference frames in order to interact effectively with our environment. For example, we need an egocentric (e.g., body-centered) reference frame to specify limb movements and an allocentric (e.g., world-centered) reference frame to navigate from one location to another. Posterior parietal cortex (PPC) is vital for performing transformations between these different coordinate systems. Here, we review evidence for multiple pathways in the human brain, from PPC to motor, premotor, and supplementary motor areas, as well as to structures in the medial temporal lobe. These connections are important for transformations between egocentric reference frames to facilitate sensory-guided action, or from egocentric to allocentric reference frames to facilitate spatial navigation.
parietal cortex; frontal cortex; spatial attention; coordinate transformation; connectivity; saccade; grasp; reach; navigation
The NAD-synthesizing enzyme NMNAT2 is critical for axon survival in primary culture and its depletion may contribute to axon degeneration in a variety of neurodegenerative disorders. Here we discuss several recent reports from our laboratory that establish a critical role for NMNAT2 in axon growth in vivo in mice and shed light on the delivery and turnover of this survival factor in axons. In the absence of NMNAT2, axons fail to extend more than a short distance beyond the cell body during embryonic development, implying a requirement for NMNAT2 in axon maintenance even during development. Furthermore, we highlight findings regarding the bidirectional trafficking of NMNAT2 in axons on a vesicle population that undergoes fast axonal transport in primary culture neurites and in mouse sciatic nerve axons in vivo. Surprisingly, loss of vesicle association boosts the axon protective capacity of NMNAT2, an effect that is at least partially mediated by a longer protein half-life of cytosolic NMNAT2 variants. Analysis of wild-type and variant NMNAT2 in mouse sciatic nerves and Drosophila olfactory receptor neuron axons supports the existence of a similar mechanism in vivo, highlighting the potential for regulation of NMNAT2 stability and turnover as a mechanism to modulate axon degeneration in vivo.
NMNAT2; Wallerian degeneration; axon growth; axon survival; axonal transport; neurodegeneration; palmitoylation; ubiquitin proteasome
Sexual reproduction involves diversification of genetic information in successive generations. Meiotic recombination, which substantially contributes to the increase in genetic diversity, is initiated by programmed DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) catalyzed by the evolutionarily conserved Spo11 protein. Spo11 requires additional partner proteins for its DNA cleavage reaction. DSBs are preferentially introduced at defined chromosomal sites called “recombination hotspots.” Recent studies have revealed that meiotically established higher-order chromosome structures, such as chromosome axes and loops, are also crucial in the control of DSB formation. Most of the DSB sites are located within chromatin loop regions, while many of the proteins involved in DSB formation reside on chromosomal axes. Hence, DSB proteins and DSB sites seem to be distantly located.
To resolve this paradox, we conducted comprehensive proteomics and ChIP-chip analyses on Spo11 partners in Schizosaccharomyces pombe, in combination with mutant studies. We identified two distinct DSB complexes, the “DSBC (DSB Catalytic core)“ and “SFT (Seven-Fifteen-Twenty four; Rec7-Rec15-Rec24)” subcomplexes. The DSBC subcomplex contains Spo11 and functions as the catalytic core for the DNA cleavage reaction. The SFT subcomplex is assumed to execute regulatory functions. To activate the DSBC subcomplex, the SFT subcomplex tethers hotspots to axes via its interaction with Mde2, which can interact with proteins in both DSBC and SFT subcomplexes. Thus, Mde2 is likely to bridge these two subcomplexes, forming a “tethered loop-axis complex.” It should be noted that Mde2 expression is strictly regulated by S phase checkpoint monitoring of the completion of DNA replication. From these observations, we proposed that Mde2 is a central coupler for meiotic recombination initiation to establish a tethered loop-axis complex in liaison with the S phase checkpoint.
Meiotic recombination; Spo11; DNA double-strand break formation; higher-order chromosome structure; S phase checkpoint
The cofilin-actin rod stress response is an actin cytoskeletal dynamic arrest that occurs in cells under a variety of stress conditions. Upon stress, the rapidly activated cofilin saturates actin filaments causing them to bundle into rod structures in either the nucleus or cytoplasm, halting actin polymerization and thus freeing ATP. Importantly, these rods dissociate quickly following relief of the transient stress. The rods form inappropriately in neurons involved in the progression of Alzheimer disease (AD) and we have linked dysfunctional dynamics of the nuclear rod response to Huntington disease (HD). Cofilin levels are also perturbed in Parkinson disease (PD), and profilin, an actin binding protein with opposite action to cofilin, is mutated in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The persistence of the rods post-stress suggests that critical molecular switches to turn this response both on and off are being affected in neurodegeneration. We have recently shown that the cofilin protein is regulated by highly conserved nuclear import and export signals and that these signals are required to be functional for an appropriate rod formation during stress. The ability of cofilin to form rods is required in a cell culture model for cells to be resistant to apoptosis under stress conditions, indicating that a normal cofilin-actin rod response is likely integral to proper cell health in higher order organisms. Here we hypothesize on the potential physiological function of nuclear cofilin-actin rods and why the dysregulation of this response could lead to the selective vulnerability of the most susceptible populations of cells in HD. We further suggest that learning more about this cytoskeletal cell stress response will open up new avenues for drug target discovery in neurodegenerative disorders.
Huntington disease; actin; cofilin; cofilin rods; cytoskeleton; nuclear transport signals; profilin
Embryonic patterning relies upon an exquisitely timed program of gene regulation. While the regulation of this process via the action of transcription factor networks is well understood, new lines of study have highlighted the importance of a concurrently regulated program of chromatin remodeling during development. Chromatin remodeling refers to the manipulation of the chromatin architecture through rearrangement, repositioning, or restructuring of nucleosomes to either favor or hinder the expression of associated genes. While the role of chromatin remodeling pathways during tumor development and cancer progression are beginning to be clarified, the roles of these pathways in the course of tissue specification, morphogenesis and patterning remains relatively unknown. Further, relatively little is understood as to the mechanism whereby developmentally critical transcription factors coordinate with chromatin remodeling factors to optimize target gene loci for gene expression. Such a mechanism might involve direct transcription factor/chromatin remodeling factor interactions, or could likely be mediated via an unknown intermediary. Our group has identified the relatively unknown protein Akirin as a putative member of this latter group: a secondary cofactor that serves as an interface between a developmentally critical transcription factor and the chromatin remodeling machinery. This role for the Akirin protein suggests a novel regulatory mode for regulating gene expression during development.
Akirin; Twist; SWI/SNF; chromatin; transcription; muscle; Drosophila
Stereocilia are actin protrusions with remarkably well-defined lengths and organization. A flurry of recent papers has reported multiple myosin motor proteins involved in regulating stereocilia structures by transporting actin-regulatory cargo to the tips of stereocilia.1-13 In our recent paper, we show that two paralogous class 3 myosins — Myo3a and Myo3b — both transport the actin-regulatory protein Espin 1 (Esp1) to stereocilia and filopodia tips in a remarkably similar, albeit non-identical fashion.1 Here we present experimental and computational data that suggests that subtle differences between these two proteins’ biophysical and biochemical properties can help us understand how these myosin species target and regulate the lengths of actin protrusions.
myosin; actin; filopodia; cytoskeleton; motor proteins; stereocilia; deafness
The membrane tethering factor p115 has been shown to have important functions in ER to Golgi traffic and Golgi biogenesis. The multidomain structure of p115 allows for interactions with a diverse array of proteins that govern cargo movement at the ER-Golgi interface. Within its C-terminal region p115 contains four coiled-coil domains (CC1-CC4). Of the four coiled-coils, only CC1 has been shown to be required for p115 function, presumably by its ability to bind numerous SNARE proteins as well as the small GTPase Rab1. Recently, we showed that CC4 also interacts with SNARE proteins and that CC4 is required for p115 function in Golgi homeostasis and the trafficking of transmembrane but not soluble cargo. Here, we propose a novel model wherein p115 facilitates membrane tethering and fusion by simultaneously engaging its CC1 and CC4 domains with distinct SNARE proteins to promote formation of SNARE complexes.
p115; SNARE; tethering; Golgi; coiled-coil domain
The unique innovation of the layered neocortex in mammalian evolution is believed to facilitate adaptive radiation of mammalian species to various ecological environments by furnishing high information processing ability. There are no transitional states from the non-mammalian simple brain to the mammalian multilayered neocortex, and thus it is totally a mystery so far how this brain structure has been acquired during evolution. In our recent study, we found the evidence showing that the evolutionary origin of the neocortical neuron subtypes predates the actual emergence of layer structure. Our comparative developmental analysis of the chick pallium, homologous to the mammalian neocortex, revealed that mammals and avians fundamentally share the neocortical neuron subtypes and their production mechanisms, suggesting that their common ancestor already possessed a similar neuronal repertory. We further demonstrated that the neocortical layer-specific neuron subtypes are arranged as mediolaterally separated domains in the chick, but not as layers in the mammalian neocortex. These animal group-specific neuronal arrangements are accomplished by spatial modulation of the neurogenetic program, suggesting an evolutionary hypothesis that the regulatory changes in the neurogenetic program innovated the mammalian specific layered neocortex.
bird; brain patterning; evolution; layer; mammal; neocortex; neural progenitor; neuron subtype; pallium; stem cell
During mitosis, microtubules (MTs) are massively rearranged into three sets of highly dynamic MTs that are nucleated from the centrosomes to form the mitotic spindle. Tight regulation of spindle positioning in the dividing cell and chromosome alignment at the center of the metaphase spindle are required to ensure perfect chromosome segregation and to position the cytokinetic furrow that will specify the two daughter cells. Spindle positioning requires regulation of MT dynamics, involving depolymerase activities together with cortical and kinetochore-mediated pushing and pulling forces acting on astral MTs and kinetochore fibres. These forces rely on MT motor activities. Cortical pulling forces exerted on astral MTs depend upon dynein/dynactin complexes and are essential in both symmetric and asymmetric cell division. A well-established spindle positioning pathway regulating the cortical targeting of dynein/dynactin involves the conserved LGN (Leu-Gly-Asn repeat-enriched-protein) and NuMA (microtubule binding nuclear mitotic apparatus protein) complex.1 Spindle orientation is also regulated by integrin-mediated cell adhesion2 and actin retraction fibres that respond to mechanical stress and are influenced by the microenvironment of the dividing cell.3 Altering the capture of astral MTs or modulating pulling forces affects spindle position, which can impair cell division, differentiation and embryogenesis.
In this general scheme, the activity of mitotic kinases such as Auroras and Plk1 (Polo-like kinase 1) is crucial.4 Recently, the p21-activated kinases (PAKs) emerged as novel important players in mitotic progression. In our recent article, we demonstrated that PAK4 regulates spindle positioning in symmetric cell division.5 In this commentary, and in light of recent published studies, we discuss how PAK4 could participate in the regulation of mechanisms involved in spindle positioning and orientation.
astral microtubules; dynein; p21-activated kinase; spindle orientation and positioning
The THO complex is a nuclear structure whose architecture is conserved among all kingdoms and plays an important role in mRNP biogenesis connecting transcription elongation with mRNA maturation and export. Recent data indicates that the THO complex is necessary for the proper expression of some genes, assurance of genetic stability by preventing transcription-associated recombination. Yeast THO has been described as a heterotetramer (Tho2, Hpr1, Mft1 and Thp2) that performs several functions through the interaction with other proteins like Tex1 or the mRNA export factors Sub2 and Yra1, with which it forms the TRanscription and EXport complex (TREX). In this article we review the cellular role of THO, which we show to be composed of five subunits with Tex1 being also an integral part of the complex. We also show a low-resolution structure of THO and localize some of its components. We discuss the consequences of THO interaction with nucleic acids through the unfolded C-terminal region of Tho2, highlighting the importance of unfolded regions in eukaryotic proteins. Finally, we comment on THO recruitment to active chromatin, a role that is linked to mRNA biogenesis.
THO complex; TREX complex; electron microscopy; mRNA export; mRNP quality control
Chromatin remodeling by the SWI/SNF complex is required to activate the transcription of myogenic-specific genes. Our work addressed the details of how SWI/SNF is recruited to myogenic regulatory regions in response to differentiation signals. Surprisingly, the muscle determination factor MyoD and the SWI/SNF subunit BAF60c form a complex on the regulatory elements of MyoD-targeted genes in myogenic precursor cells. This Brg1-devoid MyoD-BAF60c complex flags the chromatin of myogenic-differentiation genes before transcription is activated. On differentiation, BAF60c phosphorylation on a conserved threonine by p38 α kinase promotes the incorporation of MyoD-BAF60c into a Brg1-based SWI/SNF complex, which remodels the chromatin and activates transcription of MyoD-target genes. Downregulation of BAF60c expression prevents MyoD access to the chromatin and the proper loading of an active myogenic transcriptosome preventing the expression of hundreds of myogenic genes. Our data support an unprecedented two-step model by which (1) pre-assembled BAF60c-MyoD complex poises the chromatin of myogenic genes for rapid transcription; (2) chromatin-bound BAF60c “senses” the myogenic differentiation cues and recruits an active SWI/SNF complex to remodel the chromatin allowing transcriptional activation.
MyoD; BAF60c; SWI/SNF; chromatin; remodeling; transcription; myogenesis; differentiation
Adult skeletal muscles adapt their fiber size to workload. We show that serum response factor (Srf) is required for satellite cell-mediated hypertrophic muscle growth. Deletion of Srf from myofibers, and not satellite cells, blunts overload-induced hypertrophy, and impairs satellite cell proliferation and recruitment to pre-existing fibers. We reveal a gene network in which Srf within myofibers modulates interleukin-6 and cyclooxygenase-2/interleukin-4 expressions and therefore exerts a paracrine control of satellite cell functions. In Srf-deleted muscles, in vivo overexpression of interleukin-6 is sufficient to restore satellite cell proliferation, but not satellite cell fusion and overall growth. In contrast, cyclooxygenase-2/interleukin-4 overexpression rescues satellite cell recruitment and muscle growth without affecting satellite cell proliferation, identifying altered fusion as the limiting cellular event. These findings unravel a role for Srf in the translation of mechanical cues applied to myofibers into paracrine signals, which in turn will modulate satellite cell functions and support muscle growth.
skeletal muscle; hypertrophy; satellite cells; paracrine; transcription factor
Integrin-linked kinase (ILK), PINCH and Parvin proteins form the IPP-complex that has been established as a core component of the integrin-actin link. Our recent genetic studies on Drosophila parvin, reveal that loss of function mutant defects phenocopy those observed upon loss of ILK or PINCH in the muscle and the wing, strengthening the notion that these proteins function together in the organism. Our work identified that ILK is necessary and sufficient for parvin subcellular localization, corroborating previous data indicating a direct association between these two proteins. Further genetic epistasis analysis of the IPP-complex assembly at integrin adhesion sites reveals that depending on the cell context each component is required differently. At the muscle attachment sites of the embryo, ILK is placed upstream in the hierarchy of genetic interactions required for the IPP-complex assembly. By contrast, in the wing epithelium the three proteins are mutually interdependent. Finally, we uncovered a novel property for the CH1-domain of parvin: its recruitment at the integrin-containing junctions in an ILK-dependent manner. Apparently, this ability of the CH1-domain is controlled by the inter-CH linker region. Thus, an intramolecular interaction within parvin could serve as a putative regulatory mechanism controlling the ILK-Parvin interaction.
integrin; cell adhesion; PINCH; actin; Drosophila
Tetraspanins regulate the signaling, trafficking and biosynthetic processing of associated proteins, and may link the extracellular domain of α-chain integrins with intracellular signaling molecules, including PI4K and PKC, both of which regulate cytoskeletal architecture. We showed that TSPAN7, a member of tetraspannin-family, promotes filopodia and dendritic spine formation in cultured hippocampal neurons, and is required for spine stability and normal synaptic transmission. TSPAN7 directly interacts with the PDZ domain of protein interacting with C kinase 1 (PICK1), and associates with AMPAR subunit GluA2 and β1-integrin. TSPAN7 regulates PICK1 and GluA2/3 association, and AMPA receptor trafficking. These findings identify TSPAN7 as a key player in the morphological and functional maturation of glutamatergic synapses.
intellectual disability; AMPAR trafficking; synapse function/plasticity; tetrasapanins; TSPAN7; integrins; PICK1
Our recent paper examined how pelvic fins and their musculature form developmentally and how these mechanisms have evolved within the vertebrate lineage, a process fundamental to the tetrapod transition. The transition from the water onto the land is among one of the most well studied steps in the evolutionary history of vertebrates, yet the genetic basis of this evolutionary transition is little studied and ill-defined. The advent of these terrestrial species resulted in a shift in locomotor strategies from the rhythmic undulating muscles of the fish body to a reliance upon powerful weight bearing muscles of the limbs to generate movement. We demonstrated that the pelvic fin muscles of bony fish are generated by a mechanism that has features of both of limb/fin muscle formation in tetrapods and primitive cartilaginous fish. We hypothesize that the adoption of the fully derived mode of hindlimb muscle formation, was a further modification of the mode of development deployed to generate pelvic fin muscles, a shift in overall muscle bioarchitecture we believe was critical to the success of the tetrapod transition.
muscle; evolution; fin; limb; zebrafish; tetrapod