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Human Molecular Genetics

Human Molecular Genetics - RSS feed of current issue

ATP7A is a P-type ATPase in which diverse mutations lead to X-linked recessive Menkes disease or occipital horn syndrome. Recently, two previously unknown ATP7A missense mutations, T994I and P1386S, were shown to cause an isolated distal motor neuropathy without clinical or biochemical features of other ATP7A disorders. These mutant alleles cause subtle defects in ATP7A intracellular trafficking, resulting in preferential plasma membrane localization compared with wild-type ATP7A. We reported previously that ATP7AP1386S causes unstable insertion of the eighth and final transmembrane segment, preventing proper position of the carboxyl-terminal tail in a proportion of mutant molecules. Here, we utilize this and other naturally occurring and engineered mutant ATP7A alleles to identify mechanisms of normal ATP7A trafficking. We show that adaptor protein (AP) complexes 1 and 2 physically interact with ATP7A and that binding is mediated in part by a carboxyl-terminal di-leucine motif. In contrast to other ATP7A missense mutations, ATP7AP1386S partially disturbs interactions with both APs, leading to abnormal axonal localization in transfected NSC-34 motor neurons and altered calcium-signaling following glutamate stimulation. Our results imply that AP-1 normally tethers ATP7A at the trans-Golgi network in the somatodendritic segments of motor neurons and that alterations affecting the ATP7A carboxyl-terminal tail induce release of the copper transporter to the axons or axonal membranes. The latter effects are intensified by diminished interaction with AP-2, impeding ATP7A retrograde trafficking. Taken together, these findings further illuminate the normal molecular mechanisms of ATP7A trafficking and suggest a pathophysiological basis for ATP7A-related distal motor neuropathy.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) are the two common neurodegenerative diseases that have been associated with the GGGGCC·GGCCCC repeat RNA expansion in a noncoding region of C9orf72. It has been previously reported that unconventional repeat-associated non-ATG (RAN) translation of GGGGCC·GGCCCC repeats produces five types of dipeptide-repeat proteins (referred to as RAN proteins): poly-glycine-alanine (GA), poly-glycine-proline (GP), poly-glycine-arginine (GR), poly-proline-arginine (PR) and poly-proline-alanine (PA). Although protein aggregates of RAN proteins have been found in patients, it is unclear whether RAN protein aggregation induces neurotoxicity. In the present study, we aimed to understand the biological properties of all five types of RAN proteins. Surprisingly, our results showed that none of these RAN proteins was aggregate-prone in our cellular model and that the turnover of these RAN proteins was not affected by the ubiquitin–proteasome system or autophagy. Moreover, poly-GR and poly-PR, but not poly-GA, poly-GP or poly-PA, localized to the nucleolus and induced the translocation of the key nucleolar component nucleophosmin, leading to nucleolar stress and cell death. This poly-GR- and poly-PR-mediated defect in nucleolar function was associated with the suppression of ribosomal RNA synthesis and the impairment of stress granule formation. Taken together, the results of the present study suggest a simple model of the molecular mechanisms underlying RAN translation-mediated cytotoxicity in C9orf72-linked ALS/FTD in which nucleolar stress, but not protein aggregation, is the primary contributor to C9orf72-linked neurodegeneration.

The CAG repeat expansion in the Huntington's disease gene HTT extends a polyglutamine tract in mutant huntingtin that enhances its ability to facilitate polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2). To gain insight into this dominant gain of function, we mapped histone modifications genome-wide across an isogenic panel of mouse embryonic stem cell (ESC) and neuronal progenitor cell (NPC) lines, comparing the effects of Htt null and different size Htt CAG mutations. We found that Htt is required in ESC for the proper deposition of histone H3K27me3 at a subset of ‘bivalent’ loci but in NPC it is needed at ‘bivalent’ loci for both the proper maintenance and the appropriate removal of this mark. In contrast, Htt CAG size, though changing histone H3K27me3, is prominently associated with altered histone H3K4me3 at ‘active’ loci. The sets of ESC and NPC genes with altered histone marks delineated by the lack of huntingtin or the presence of mutant huntingtin, though distinct, are enriched in similar pathways with apoptosis specifically highlighted for the CAG mutation. Thus, the manner by which huntingtin function facilitates PRC2 may afford mutant huntingtin with multiple opportunities to impinge upon the broader machinery that orchestrates developmentally appropriate chromatin status.

The ethylmalonic encephalopathy protein 1 (ETHE1) catalyses the oxygen-dependent oxidation of glutathione persulfide (GSSH) to give persulfite and glutathione. Mutations to the hETHE1 gene compromise sulfide metabolism leading to the genetic disease ethylmalonic encephalopathy. hETHE1 is a mono-iron binding member of the metallo-β-lactamase (MBL) fold superfamily. We report crystallographic analysis of hETHE1 in complex with iron to 2.6 Å resolution. hETHE1 contains an αββα MBL-fold, which supports metal-binding by the side chains of an aspartate and two histidine residues; three water molecules complete octahedral coordination of the iron. The iron binding hETHE1 enzyme is related to the ‘classical’ di-zinc binding MBL hydrolases involved in antibiotic resistance, but has distinctive features. The histidine and aspartate residues involved in iron-binding in ETHE1, occupy similar positions to those observed across both the zinc 1 and zinc 2 binding sites in classical MBLs. The active site of hETHE1 is very similar to an ETHE1-like enzyme from Arabidopsis thaliana (60% sequence identity). A channel leading to the active site is sufficiently large to accommodate a GSSH substrate. Some of the observed hETHE1 clinical mutations cluster in the active site region. The structure will serve as a basis for detailed functional and mechanistic studies on ETHE1 and will be useful in the development of selective MBL inhibitors.

Loss of gamma-sarcoglycan (-SG) induces muscle degeneration and signaling defects in response to mechanical load, and its absence is common to both Duchenne and limb girdle muscular dystrophies. Growing evidence suggests that aberrant signaling contributes to the disease pathology; however, the mechanisms of -SG-mediated mechanical signaling are poorly understood. To uncover -SG signaling pathway components, we performed yeast two-hybrid screens and identified the muscle-specific protein archvillin as a -SG and dystrophin interacting protein. Archvillin protein and message levels were significantly upregulated at the sarcolemma of murine -SG-null (gsg–/–) muscle but delocalized in dystrophin-deficient mdx muscle. Similar elevation of archvillin protein was observed in human quadriceps muscle lacking -SG. Reintroduction of -SG in gsg–/– muscle by rAAV injection restored archvillin levels to that of control C57 muscle. In situ eccentric contraction of tibialis anterior (TA) muscles from C57 mice caused ERK1/2 phosphorylation, nuclear activation of P-ERK1/2 and stimulus-dependent archvillin association with P-ERK1/2. In contrast, TA muscles from gsg–/– and mdx mice exhibited heightened P-ERK1/2 and increased nuclear P-ERK1/2 localization following eccentric contractions, but the archvillin–P-ERK1/2 association was completely ablated. These results position archvillin as a mechanically sensitive component of the dystrophin complex and demonstrate that signaling defects caused by loss of -SG occur both at the sarcolemma and in the nucleus.

Hearing loss is the most common sensory deficit in humans. We show that a point mutation in DCDC2 (DCDC2a), a member of doublecortin domain-containing protein superfamily, causes non-syndromic recessive deafness DFNB66 in a Tunisian family. Using immunofluorescence on rat inner ear neuroepithelia, DCDC2a was found to localize to the kinocilia of sensory hair cells and the primary cilia of nonsensory supporting cells. DCDC2a fluorescence is distributed along the length of the kinocilium with increased density toward the tip. DCDC2a-GFP overexpression in non-polarized COS7 cells induces the formation of long microtubule-based cytosolic cables suggesting a role in microtubule formation and stabilization. Deafness mutant DCDC2a expression in hair cells and supporting cells causes cilium structural defects, such as cilium branching, and up to a 3-fold increase in length ratios. In zebrafish, the ortholog dcdc2b was found to be essential for hair cell development, survival and function. Our results reveal DCDC2a to be a deafness gene and a player in hair cell kinocilia and supporting cell primary cilia length regulation likely via its role in microtubule formation and stabilization.

Hereditary gelsolin amyloidosis is an autosomal dominantly inherited amyloid disorder. A point mutation in the GSN gene (G654A being the most common one) results in disturbed calcium binding by the second gelsolin domain (G2). As a result, the folding of G2 is hampered, rendering the mutant plasma gelsolin susceptible to a proteolytic cascade. Consecutive cleavage by furin and MT1-MMP-like proteases generates 8 and 5 kDa amyloidogenic peptides that cause neurological, ophthalmological and dermatological findings. To this day, no specific treatment is available to counter the pathogenesis. Using GSN nanobody 11 as a molecular chaperone, we aimed to protect mutant plasma gelsolin from furin proteolysis in the trans-Golgi network. We report a transgenic, GSN nanobody 11 secreting mouse that was used for crossbreeding with gelsolin amyloidosis mice. Insertion of the therapeutic nanobody gene into the gelsolin amyloidosis mouse genome resulted in improved muscle contractility. X-ray crystal structure determination of the gelsolin G2:Nb11 complex revealed that Nb11 does not directly block the furin cleavage site. We conclude that nanobodies can be used to shield substrates from aberrant proteolysis and this approach might establish a novel therapeutic strategy in amyloid diseases.

White matter abnormalities have been reported in premanifest Huntington's disease (HD) subjects before overt striatal neuronal loss, but whether the white matter changes represent a necessary step towards further pathology and the underlying mechanism of these changes remains unknown. Here, we characterized a novel knock-in mouse model that expresses mouse HD gene homolog (Hdh) with extended CAG repeat- HdhQ250, which was derived from the selective breeding of HdhQ150 mice. HdhQ250 mice manifest an accelerated and robust phenotype compared with its parent line. HdhQ250 mice exhibit progressive motor deficits, reduction in striatal and cortical volume, accumulation of mutant huntingtin aggregation, decreased levels of DARPP32 and BDNF and altered striatal metabolites. The abnormalities detected in this mouse model are reminiscent of several aspects of human HD. In addition, disturbed myelination was evident in postnatal Day 14 HdhQ250 mouse brain, including reduced levels of myelin regulatory factor and myelin basic protein, and decreased numbers of myelinated axons in the corpus callosum. Thinner myelin sheaths, indicated by increased G-ratio of myelin, were also detected in the corpus callosum of adult HdhQ250 mice. Moreover, proliferation of oligodendrocyte precursor cells is altered by mutant huntingtin both in vitro and in vivo. Our data indicate that this model is suitable for understanding comprehensive pathogenesis of HD in white matter and gray matter as well as developing therapeutics for HD.

Mitochondrial dysfunction plays important roles in Parkinson's disease (PD) and the degradation of the damaged mitochondria by the mitochondria quality control system is important for dopaminergic (DA) neuronal survival. BNIP3L/Nix is a mitochondrial outer membrane protein that is required for the selective clearance of mitochondria. Here, we found that the mitochondrial protein BNIP3L acts downstream of the PINK1/PARK2 pathway to induce mitophagy. BNIP3L is a substrate of PARK2 to drive PARK2-mediated mitophagy. The ubiquitination of BNIP3L by PARK2 recruits NBR1 to mitochondria, thereby targeting mitochondria for degradation. BNIP3L rescues mitochondrial defects in pink1 mutant Drosophila but not in park mutant Drosophila, indicating that the clearance of mitochondria induced by BNIP3L depends on the presence of PARK2. In cells intoxicated with mitochondrial complex I inhibitors rotenone, 6-OHDA or MPP+, the disrupted mitochondria are not appropriately eliminated by mitophagy due to the improper degradation of BNIP3L. Thus, our study demonstrates that BNIP3L, as a substrate of PARK2, promotes mitophagy in the PINK1/PARK2 pathway associated with PD pathogenesis.

Heparanase (HPSE) is the endogenous endoglycosidase that degrades heparan sulfate proteoglycans and promotes the tumor growth, invasion, metastasis and angiogenesis. Our previous studies have shown that HPSE is highly expressed in neuroblastoma (NB), the most common extracranial solid tumor in childhood. However, the underlying regulatory mechanisms remain largely unknown. In this study, we identified one binding site of microRNA-558 (miR-558) within the HPSE promoter. In NB tissues and cell lines, miR-558 was up-regulated and positively correlated with HPSE expression. Gain- and loss-of-function studies demonstrated that miR-558 facilitated the transcript and protein levels of HPSE and its downstream gene, vascular endothelial growth factor, in NB cell lines. In addition, miR-558 enhanced the promoter activities of HPSE, and these effects were abolished by the mutation of the miR-558-binding site. Mechanistically, miR-558 induced the enrichment of the active epigenetic marker and RNA polymerase II on the HPSE promoter in NB cells in an Argonaute 1-dependent manner, which was abolished by repressing the miR-558-promoter interaction. Knockdown of endogenous miR-558 decreased the growth, invasion, metastasis and angiogenesis of NB cells in vitro and in vivo. In contrast, over-expression of miR-558 promoted the growth, invasion, metastasis and angiogenesis of SH-SY5Y and SK-N-SH cells. Restoration of HPSE expression prevented the NB cells from changes in these biological features induced by knockdown or over-expression of miR-558. These data indicate that miR-558 induces the transcriptional activation of HPSE via the binding site within promoter, thus facilitating the tumorigenesis and aggressiveness of NB.

Aberrant fibroblast growth factor receptor 3 (FGFR3) signaling disrupts chondrocyte proliferation and growth plate size and architecture, leading to various chondrodysplasias or bone overgrowth. These observations suggest that the duration, intensity and cellular context of FGFR signaling during growth plate chondrocyte maturation require tight, regulated control for proper bone elongation. However, the machinery fine-tuning FGFR signaling in chondrocytes is incompletely defined. We report here that neurofibromin, a Ras-GAP encoded by Nf1, has an overlapping expression pattern with FGFR1 and FGFR3 in prehypertrophic chondrocytes, and with FGFR1 in hypertrophic chondrocytes during endochondral ossification. Based on previous evidence that neurofibromin inhibits Ras-ERK signaling in chondrocytes and phenotypic analogies between mice with constitutive FGFR1 activation and Nf1 deficiency in Col2a1-positive chondrocytes, we asked whether neurofibromin is required to control FGFR1-Ras-ERK signaling in maturing chondrocytes in vivo. Genetic Nf1 ablation in Fgfr1-deficient chondrocytes reactivated Ras-ERK1/2 signaling in hypertrophic chondrocytes and reversed the expansion of the hypertrophic zone observed in mice lacking Fgfr1 in Col2a1-positive chondrocytes. Histomorphometric and gene expression analyses suggested that neurofibromin, by inhibiting Rankl expression, attenuates pro-osteoclastogenic FGFR1 signaling in hypertrophic chondrocytes. We also provide evidence suggesting that neurofibromin in prehypertrophic chondrocytes, downstream of FGFRs and via an indirect mechanism, is required for normal extension and organization of proliferative columns. Collectively, this study indicates that FGFR signaling provides an important input into the Ras-Raf-MEK-ERK1/2 signaling axis in chondrocytes, and that this input is differentially regulated during chondrocyte maturation by a complex intracellular machinery, of which neurofibromin is a critical component.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)-linked mutations in UBQLN2 and some members of the heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoproteins (hnRNPs) family cause ALS. Most mutations in UBQLN2 are missense mutations that occur in and around a PXX repeat motif located in the central domain of the encoded protein. However, neither the function of the PXX motif nor the mechanism by which mutations in UBQLN2 cause ALS is known. We screened a yeast two-hybrid library using the central domain of ubiquilin-2 hoping to identify proteins whose binding is affected by the UBQLN2 mutations. Three such interactors were identified—hnRNPA1, hnRNPA3 and hnRNPU—all members of the hnRNP family. The interacting region in each of these proteins was their glycine-rich domain, the domain most frequently mutated in hnRNP-related proteins that cause ALS. We focused on hnRNPA1, because a mutation in the protein causes ALS. We confirmed the interaction between wild-type (WT) ubiquilin-2 and hnRNPA1 proteins in vitro and in cells. In contrast, all five ALS mutations in ubiquilin-2 that we examined had reduced binding with WT hnRNPA1. In addition, hnRNPA1 carrying the D262V missense mutation that causes ALS failed to bind WT ubiquilin-2. Overexpression of ubiquilin-2 containing the ALS mutations increased cell death and, for several of the mutants, this correlated with increased translocation of hnRNPA1 to the cytoplasm. Knockdown of ubiquilin-2 led to increased turnover of hnRNPA1, indicating ubiquilin-2 functions to stabilize hnRNPA1. The discovery that ubiquilin-2 interacts with hnRNP proteins and that mutation in either protein disrupts interaction suggests a connection between proteostasis and RNA metabolism.

Primary cilia are complex subcellular structures that play key roles during embryogenesis by controlling the cellular response to several signaling pathways. Defects in the function and/or structure of primary cilia underlie a large number of human syndromes collectively referred to as ciliopathies. Often, ciliopathies are associated with mental retardation (MR) and malformation of the corpus callosum. However, the possibility of defects in other forebrain axon tracts, which could contribute to the cognitive disorders of these patients, has not been explored. Here, we investigate the formation of the corticothalamic/thalamocortical tracts in mice mutant for Rfx3, which regulates the expression of many genes involved in ciliogenesis and cilia function. Using DiI axon tracing and immunohistochemistry experiments, we show that some Rfx3–/– corticothalamic axons abnormally migrate toward the pial surface of the ventral telencephalon (VT). Some thalamocortical axons (TCAs) also fail to leave the diencephalon or abnormally project toward the amygdala. Moreover, the Rfx3–/– VT displays heterotopias containing attractive guidance cues and expressing the guidance molecules Slit1 and Netrin1. Finally, the abnormal projection of TCAs toward the amygdala is also present in mice carrying a mutation in the Inpp5e gene, which is mutated in Joubert Syndrome and which controls cilia signaling and stability. The presence of identical thalamocortical malformations in two independent ciliary mutants indicates a novel role for primary cilia in the formation of the corticothalamic/thalamocortical tracts by establishing the correct cellular environment necessary for its development.

Determination of variant pathogenicity represents a major challenge in the era of high-throughput sequencing. Erroneous categorization may result if variants affect genes that are in fact dispensable. We demonstrate that this also applies to rare, apparently unambiguous truncating mutations of an established disease gene. By whole-exome sequencing (WES) in a consanguineous family with congenital non-syndromic deafness, we unexpectedly identified a homozygous nonsense variant, p.Arg1066*, in AHI1, a gene associated with Joubert syndrome (JBTS), a severe recessive ciliopathy. None of four homozygotes expressed any signs of JBTS, and one of them had normal hearing, which also ruled out p.Arg1066* as the cause of deafness. Homozygosity mapping and WES in the only other reported JBTS family with a homozygous C-terminal truncation (p.Trp1088Leufs*16) confirmed AHI1 as disease gene, but based on a more N-terminal missense mutation impairing WD40-repeat formation. Morpholinos against N-terminal zebrafish Ahi1, orthologous to where human mutations cluster, produced a ciliopathy, but targeting near human p.Arg1066 and p.Trp1088 did not. Most AHI1 mutations in JBTS patients result in truncated protein lacking WD40-repeats and the SH3 domain; disease was hitherto attributed to loss of these protein interaction modules. Our findings indicate that normal development does not require the C-terminal SH3 domain. This has far-reaching implications, considering that variants like p.Glu984* identified by preconception screening (‘Kingsmore panel’) do not necessarily indicate JBTS carriership. Genomes of individuals with consanguineous background are enriched for homozygous variants that may unmask dispensable regions of disease genes and unrecognized false positives in diagnostic large-scale sequencing and preconception carrier screening.

Over the past decade, increasing evidence has implied a significant connection between caspase-6 activity and the pathogenesis of Huntington's disease (HD). Consequently, inhibiting caspase-6 activity was suggested as a promising therapeutic strategy to reduce mutant Huntingtin toxicity, and to provide protection from mutant Huntingtin-induced motor and behavioral deficits. Here, we describe a novel caspase-6 inhibitor peptide based on the huntingtin caspase-6 cleavage site, fused with a cell-penetrating sequence. The peptide reduces mutant Huntingtin proteolysis by caspase-6, and protects cells from mutant Huntingtin toxicity. Continuous subcutaneous administration of the peptide protected pre-symptomatic BACHD mice from motor deficits and behavioral abnormalities. Moreover, administration of the peptide in an advanced disease state resulted in the partial recovery of motor performance, and an alleviation of depression-related behavior and cognitive deficits. Our findings reveal the potential of substrate-based caspase inhibition as a therapeutic strategy, and present a promising agent for the treatment of HD.

Friedreich ataxia (FA), the most common inherited autosomal-recessive ataxia in Caucasians, is characterized by progressive degeneration of the central and peripheral nervous system, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and increased incidence of diabetes. FA is caused by a GAA repeat expansion in the first intron of the gene encoding frataxin, an evolutionarily conserved mitochondrial protein, which results in decreased gene expression. Ubiquitous inactivation of the fly frataxin ortholog dfh blocks the transition from larval to pupal stages. In this study, we show that this phenotype is due to ecdysteroid deficiency and that feeding larvae with the 20-hydroxyecdysone steroid hormone rescues this developmental blockage. In mammals, adrenodoxin, the ferredoxin FDX1, is an Fe–S-containing protein essential for the synthesis of various steroid hormones. We show here that the two fly ferredoxins, Fdxh and Fdxh2 (encoded by CG1319), are also involved in steroidogenesis. This provides a potent mechanism by which frataxin, known to be involved in Fe–S cluster biosynthesis, could affect steroidogenesis through reduced ferredoxin activity. Finally, we show that frataxin inactivation decreases progesterone synthesis in human KGN ovarian granulosa cells. Thus, the involvement of frataxin in steroid synthesis appears to be a conserved function of the protein from flies to human and our data suggest that steroidogenesis could be affected in FA patients.

Genetic mapping was recently used to identify the underlying cause for a previously uncharacterized cohort of autosomal recessive retinitis pigmentosa cases. Genetic mapping of affected individuals resulted in the identification of an uncharacterized gene, C2Orf71, as the causative locus. However, initial homology searches failed to reveal similarities to any previously characterized protein or domain. To address this issue, we characterized the mouse homolog, BC027072. Immunohistochemistry with a custom polyclonal antibody showed staining localized to the inner segments (IS) of photoreceptor cells, as well as the outer segments (OS) of cone cells. A knockout mouse line (BC–/–) was generated and demonstrated that loss of this gene results in a severe, early-onset retinal degeneration. Histology and electron microscopy (EM) revealed disorganized OS as early as 3 weeks with complete loss by 24 weeks of age. EM micrographs displayed packets of cellular material containing OS discs or IS organelles in the OS region and abnormal retinal pigmented epithelium cells. Analyses of retinoids and rhodopsin levels showed <20% in BC–/– versus wild-type mice early in development. Electroretinograms demonstrated that affected mice were virtually non-responsive to light by 8 weeks of age. Lastly, RNAseq analysis of ocular gene expression in BC–/– mice revealed clues to the causes of the progressive retinal degenerations. Although its function remains unknown, this protein appears essential for normal OS development/maintenance and vision in humans and mice. RNAseq data are available in the GEO database under accession: GSE63810.

Mutations in the GJB2 gene, which encodes the gap junction protein connexin 26 (Cx26), are the primary cause of hereditary prelingual hearing impairment. Here, the p.Cys169Tyr missense mutation of Cx26 (Cx26C169Y), previously classified as a polymorphism, has been identified as causative of severe hearing loss in two Qatari families. We have analyzed the effect of this mutation using a combination of confocal immunofluorescence microscopy and molecular dynamics simulations. At the cellular level, our results show that the mutant protein fails to form junctional channels in HeLa transfectants despite being correctly targeted to the plasma membrane. At the molecular level, this effect can be accounted for by disruption of the disulfide bridge that Cys169 forms with Cys64 in the wild-type structure (Cx26WT). The lack of the disulfide bridge in the Cx26C169Y protein causes a spatial rearrangement of two important residues, Asn176 and Thr177. In the Cx26WT protein, these residues play a crucial role in the intra-molecular interactions that permit the formation of an intercellular channel by the head-to-head docking of two opposing hemichannels resident in the plasma membrane of adjacent cells. Our results elucidate the molecular pathogenesis of hereditary hearing loss due to the connexin mutation and facilitate the understanding of its role in both healthy and affected individuals.

The majority of significant single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) identified with genome-wide association studies are located in non-coding regions of the genome; it is therefore possible that they are involved in transcriptional regulation of a nearby gene rather than affecting an encoded protein's function. Previously, it was demonstrated that the SNP rs12203592, located in intron 4 of the IRF4 gene, is strongly associated with human skin pigmentation and modulates an enhancer element that controls expression of IRF4. In our study, we investigated the allele-specific effect of rs12203592 on IRF4 expression in epidermal skin samples and in melanocytic cells from donors of different skin color. We focused on the characteristics and activity of the enhancer, and on long-range chromatin interactions in melanocytic cells homozygous and heterozygous for rs12203592. We found that, irrespective of the trans-activating environment, IRF4 transcription is strongly correlated with the allelic status of rs12203592, the activity of the rs12203592 enhancer and that the chromatin features depend on the rs12203592 genotype. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the rs12203592 enhancer physically interacts with the IRF4 promoter through an allele-dependent chromatin loop, and suggest that subsequent allele-specific activation of IRF4 transcription is stabilized by another allele-specific loop from the rs12203592 enhancer to an additional regulatory element in IRF4. We conclude that the non-coding SNP rs12203592 is located in a regulatory region and affects a wide range of enhancer characteristics, resulting into modulation of the enhancer's activity, its interaction with the IRF4 promoter and subsequent allele-specific transcription of IRF4. Our findings provide another example of a non-coding SNP affecting skin color by modulating enhancer-mediated transcriptional regulation.

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a severe neurodevelopmental disorder that is usually caused by mutations in Methyl-CpG-binding Protein 2 (MECP2). Four of the eight common disease causing mutations in MECP2 are nonsense mutations and are responsible for over 35% of all cases of RTT. A strategy to overcome disease-causing nonsense mutations is treatment with nonsense mutation suppressing drugs that allow expression of full-length proteins from mutated genes with premature in-frame stop codons. To determine if this strategy is useful in RTT, we characterized a new mouse model containing a knock-in nonsense mutation (p.R255X) in the Mecp2 locus (Mecp2R255X). To determine whether the truncated gene product acts as a dominant negative allele and if RTT-like phenotypes could be rescued by expression of wild-type protein, we genetically introduced an extra copy of MECP2 via an MECP2 transgene. The addition of MECP2 transgene to Mecp2R255X mice abolished the phenotypic abnormalities and resulted in near complete rescue. Expression of MECP2 transgene Mecp2R255X allele also rescued mTORC1 signaling abnormalities discovered in mice with loss of function and overexpression of Mecp2. Finally, we treated Mecp2R255X embryonic fibroblasts with the nonsense mutation suppressing drug gentamicin and we were able to induce expression of full-length MeCP2 from the mutant p.R255X allele. These data provide proof of concept that the p.R255X mutation of MECP2 is amenable to the nonsense suppression therapeutic strategy and provide guidelines for the extent of rescue that can be expected by re-expressing MeCP2 protein.

Hair and teeth are appendages of ectodermal origin, and there are common molecular backgrounds involved in their formation. To date, it has been revealed that a non-synonymous polymorphism in EDAR has effects on the morphological variation in both hair and teeth. Previous association studies have confirmed that single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in/near THADA, FRAS1, WNT10A, NAF1 and FGFR2 are associated with hair morphology. In this study, we thus examined whether these SNPs are also associated with dental characteristics. We measured metric dental traits including crown size and also evaluated non-metric dental traits using plaster casts obtained from subjects (272 Japanese and 226 Koreans). DNA samples were prepared from the subjects and genotyped for the hair morphology-associated SNPs. We observed a significant association of crown size with an SNP in WNT10A (rs7349332), but not with SNPs in other genes. Therefore, we further examined four SNPs within and around WNT10A, among which rs10177996 had the strongest association with dental traits. World distribution of the derived allele in rs10177996, which is associated with larger teeth, showed that Eurasians have a higher allele frequency than Africans. Together with previous studies on hair morphology, this study demonstrated that common variations in WNT10A have pleiotropic effects on the morphology of ectodermal appendages.

High-risk mucosal types of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause anogenital and oropharyngeal cancers, whereas cutaneous types (e.g. HPV8 and 77) are suspected to be involved in non-melanoma skin cancer. The antibody response to HPVs is a key determinant of protective immunity, but not all infected individuals seroconvert. Genetic variability of the host may have large impact on seroconversion. A previous genome-wide association study (GWAS) has identified a susceptibility locus (rs41270488) for HPV8 seropositivity within the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) region. To further study this locus, we imputed alleles at classical leukocyte antigen (HLA) loci using HLA*IMP:02 with a reference panel from the HapMap Project and the 1958 Birth Cohort, and conducted an integrated analysis among 4811 central European subjects to assess the contribution of classical HLA alleles and gene copy number variation (CNV) at the hypervariable DRB locus within the MHC region to HPV seropositivity at both the individual HPV type level and the phylogenetic species level. Our study provides evidence that the association noted between rs41270488 and HPV8 seropositivity is driven by two independent variants, namely DQB1*0301 [odds ratio (OR) = 1.51, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.36–1.68, P = 1.0 x 10–14] and DRB1*1101 (OR = 1.89, 95%CI = 1.57–2.28, P = 1.5 x 10–11) within the HLA class II region. Additionally, we identified two correlated alleles DRB1*0701 (OR = 1.67, 95%CI = 1.41–1.98, P = 2.6 x 10–9) and DQA1*0201 (OR = 1.67, 95%CI = 1.38–1.93, P = 1.7 x 10–8), to be associated with HPV77 seropositivity. Comparable results were observed through imputation using SNP2HLA with another reference panel from the Type 1 diabetes Genetics Consortium. This study provides support for an important role of HLA class II alleles in antibody response to HPV infection.

Primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) is a blinding disease. Two important risk factors for this disease are a positive family history and elevated intraocular pressure (IOP), which is also highly heritable. Genes found to date associated with IOP and POAG are ABCA1, CAV1/CAV2, GAS7 and TMCO1. However, these genes explain only a small part of the heritability of IOP and POAG. We performed a genome-wide association study of IOP in the population-based Rotterdam Study I and Rotterdam Study II using single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) imputed to 1000 Genomes. In this discovery cohort (n = 8105), we identified a new locus associated with IOP. The most significantly associated SNP was rs58073046 (β = 0.44, P-value = 1.87 x 10–8, minor allele frequency = 0.12), within the gene ARHGEF12. Independent replication in five population-based studies (n = 7471) resulted in an effect size in the same direction that was significantly associated (β = 0.16, P-value = 0.04). The SNP was also significantly associated with POAG in two independent case–control studies [n = 1225 cases and n = 4117 controls; odds ratio (OR) = 1.53, P-value = 1.99 x 10–8], especially with high-tension glaucoma (OR = 1.66, P-value = 2.81 x 10–9; for normal-tension glaucoma OR = 1.29, P-value = 4.23 x 10–2). ARHGEF12 plays an important role in the RhoA/RhoA kinase pathway, which has been implicated in IOP regulation. Furthermore, it binds to ABCA1 and links the ABCA1, CAV1/CAV2 and GAS7 pathway to Mendelian POAG genes (MYOC, OPTN, WDR36). In conclusion, this study identified a novel association between IOP and ARHGEF12.

Roughly one in three individuals is highly susceptible to motion sickness and yet the underlying causes of this condition are not well understood. Despite high heritability, no associated genetic factors have been discovered. Here, we conducted the first genome-wide association study on motion sickness in 80 494 individuals from the 23andMe database who were surveyed about car sickness. Thirty-five single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were associated with motion sickness at a genome-wide-significant level (P < 5 x 10–8). Many of these SNPs are near genes involved in balance, and eye, ear and cranial development (e.g. PVRL3, TSHZ1, MUTED, HOXB3, HOXD3). Other SNPs may affect motion sickness through nearby genes with roles in the nervous system, glucose homeostasis or hypoxia. We show that several of these SNPs display sex-specific effects, with up to three times stronger effects in women. We searched for comorbid phenotypes with motion sickness, confirming associations with known comorbidities including migraines, postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV), vertigo and morning sickness and observing new associations with altitude sickness and many gastrointestinal conditions. We also show that two of these related phenotypes (PONV and migraines) share underlying genetic factors with motion sickness. These results point to the importance of the nervous system in motion sickness and suggest a role for glucose levels in motion-induced nausea and vomiting, a finding that may provide insight into other nausea-related phenotypes like PONV. They also highlight personal characteristics (e.g. being a poor sleeper) that correlate with motion sickness, findings that could help identify risk factors or treatments.