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Human Molecular Genetics

Human Molecular Genetics - RSS feed of current issue

Dysregulation of transactive response DNA-binding protein-43 (TDP-43) is thought to be linked to the pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). TDP-43 normally localizes in the nucleus but its main localization shifts to the cytoplasm in most affected cells of ALS and FTLD patients. It is not yet known whether nuclear or cytoplasmic TDP-43 is responsible for TDP-43-induced neurotoxicity. In this study, we show that nuclear TDP-43 causes TDP-43 neurotoxicity. DNA/RNA-binding and dimerization of TDP-43 are both essential for TDP-43-induced cell death. Moreover, endogenous heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein-U (hnRNP-U) binds to TDP-43 and knocking-down of hnRNP-U induces neurotoxicity, whereas overexpression of hnRNP-U or hnRNP-A2 inhibits TDP-43-induced neurotoxicity. In addition, hnRNP-U inhibits TDP-43-mediated alterations in splicing of POLDIP3 mRNA. Altogether, these results suggest that nuclear TDP-43 becomes neurotoxic by escaping from the inhibitory regulation by hnRNPs.

X-chromosome inactivation (XCI) achieves dosage compensation between males and females through the silencing of the majority of genes on one of the female X chromosomes. Thus, the female X chromosomes provide a unique opportunity to study euchromatin and heterochromatin of allelic regions within the same nuclear environment. We examined the interplay of DNA methylation (DNAm) with CpG density, transcriptional activity and chromatin state at genes on the X chromosome using over 1800 female samples analysed with the Illumina Infinium Human Methylation450 BeadChip. DNAm was used to predict an inactivation status for 63 novel transcription start sites (TSSs) across 27 tissues. There was high concordance of inactivation status across tissues, with 62% of TSSs subject to XCI in all 27 tissues examined, whereas 9% escaped from XCI in all tissues, and the remainder showed variable escape from XCI between females in subsets of tissues. Inter-female and twin data supported a model of predominately cis-acting influences on inactivation status. The level of expression from the inactive X relative to the active X correlated with the amount of female promoter DNAm to a threshold of ~30%, beyond which genes were consistently subject to inactivation. The inactive X showed lower DNAm than the active X at intragenic and intergenic regions for genes subject to XCI, but not at genes that escape from inactivation. Our categorization of genes that escape from X inactivation provides candidates for sex-specific differences in disease.

Cohesinopathies are human genetic disorders that include Cornelia de Lange syndrome (CdLS) and Roberts syndrome (RBS) and are characterized by defects in limb and craniofacial development as well as mental retardation. The developmental phenotypes of CdLS and other cohesinopathies suggest that mutations in the structure and regulation of the cohesin complex during embryogenesis interfere with gene regulation. In a previous project, we showed that RBS was associated with highly fragmented nucleoli and defects in both ribosome biogenesis and protein translation. l-leucine stimulation of the mTOR pathway partially rescued translation in human RBS cells and development in zebrafish models of RBS. In this study, we investigate protein translation in zebrafish models of CdLS. Our results show that phosphorylation of RPS6 as well as 4E-binding protein 1 (4EBP1) was reduced in nipbla/b, rad21 and smc3-morphant embryos, a pattern indicating reduced translation. Moreover, protein biosynthesis and rRNA production were decreased in the cohesin morphant embryo cells. l-leucine partly rescued protein synthesis and rRNA production in the cohesin morphants and partially restored phosphorylation of RPS6 and 4EBP1. Concomitantly, l-leucine treatment partially improved cohesinopathy embryo development including the formation of craniofacial cartilage. Interestingly, we observed that alpha-ketoisocaproate (α-KIC), which is a keto derivative of leucine, also partially rescued the development of rad21 and nipbla/b morphants by boosting mTOR-dependent translation. In summary, our results suggest that cohesinopathies are caused in part by defective protein synthesis, and stimulation of the mTOR pathway through l-leucine or its metabolite α-KIC can partially rescue development in zebrafish models for CdLS.

CYP2D6 metabolizes nearly 25% of clinically used drugs. Genetic polymorphisms cause large inter-individual variability in CYP2D6 enzyme activity and are currently used as biomarker to predict CYP2D6 metabolizer phenotype. Previously, we had identified a region 115 kb downstream of CYP2D6 as enhancer for CYP2D6, containing two completely linked single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), rs133333 and rs5758550, associated with enhanced transcription. However, the enhancer effect on CYP2D6 expression, and the causative variant, remained to be ascertained. To characterize the CYP2D6 enhancer element, we applied chromatin conformation capture combined with the next-generation sequencing (4C assays) and chromatin immunoprecipitation with P300 antibody, in HepG2 and human primary culture hepatocytes. The results confirmed the role of the previously identified enhancer region in CYP2D6 expression, expanding the number of candidate variants to three highly linked SNPs (rs133333, rs5758550 and rs4822082). Among these, only rs5758550 demonstrated regulating enhancer activity in a reporter gene assay. Use of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats mediated genome editing in HepG2 cells targeting suspected enhancer regions decreased CYP2D6 mRNA expression by 70%, only upon deletion of the rs5758550 region. These results demonstrate robust effects of both the enhancer element and SNP rs5758550 on CYP2D6 expression, supporting consideration of rs5758550 for CYP2D6 genotyping panels to yield more accurate phenotype prediction.

The mechanisms underlying preferential atrophy of the striatum in Huntington's disease (HD) are unknown. One hypothesis is that a set of gene products preferentially expressed in the striatum could determine the particular vulnerability of this brain region to mutant huntingtin (mHtt). Here, we studied the striatal protein µ-crystallin (Crym). Crym is the NADPH-dependent p38 cytosolic T3-binding protein (p38CTBP), a key regulator of thyroid hormone (TH) T3 (3,5,3'-triiodo-l-thyronine) transportation. It has been also recently identified as the enzyme that reduces the sulfur-containing cyclic ketimines, which are potential neurotransmitters. Here, we confirm the preferential expression of the Crym protein in the rodent and macaque striatum. Crym expression was found to be higher in the macaque caudate than in the putamen. Expression of Crym was reduced in the BACHD and Knock-in 140CAG mouse models of HD before onset of striatal atrophy. We show that overexpression of Crym in striatal medium-size spiny neurons using a lentiviral-based strategy in mice is neuroprotective against the neurotoxicity of an N-terminal fragment of mHtt in vivo. Thus, reduction of Crym expression in HD could render striatal neurons more susceptible to mHtt suggesting that Crym may be a key determinant of the vulnerability of the striatum. In addition our work points to Crym as a potential molecular link between striatal degeneration and the THs deregulation reported in HD patients.

Copy number variation (CNV) in the human genome is of vital importance to human health and evolution of our species. However, much of the molecular basis of CNV mutagenesis remains to be elucidated. Considering the DNA replication model of ‘fork stalling and template switching’ for CNV formation, we hypothesized that replication fork progression could be important for CNV mutagenesis. However, molecular assays of replication fork progression at the genome level are technically challenging. Instead, we conducted an estimation of DNA replication dynamics, as the statistic R, using the readily available data of replication timing. Small R-values can reflect ‘slowed’ replication, which could result from less fork initiation, reduced fork speed or fork barriers. We generated genome-wide profiles of R in the genomes of human, mouse and Drosophila. Intriguingly, the CNV breakpoints in all three genomes showed significantly biased distributions toward the genomic regions with small R-values, suggesting potential replication stress-induced CNV instability. Notably, among the human CNVs with distinct breakpoint junction characteristics, the homology-mediated and VNTR-mediated CNVs contribute the most to the correlation between CNV instability and the statistic R, consistent with the recent findings in the C. elegans and yeast genomes of repeat-induced DNA replication error and consequent CNV formation. The statistic R may reflect both replication stress and the effect of local genome architecture on fork progression. Our concordant observations suggest an important role for DNA replicative mechanisms in CNV mutagenesis and genome instability.

Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) and juvenile retinitis pigmentosa (RP) are severe hereditary diseases that causes visual impairment in infants and children. SPATA7 has recently been identified as the LCA3 and juvenile RP gene in humans, whose function in the retina remains elusive. Here, we show that SPATA7 localizes at the primary cilium of cells and at the connecting cilium (CC) of photoreceptor cells, indicating that SPATA7 is a ciliary protein. In addition, SPATA7 directly interacts with the retinitis pigmentosa GTPase regulator interacting protein 1 (RPGRIP1), a key connecting cilium protein that has also been linked to LCA. In the retina of Spata7 null mutant mice, a substantial reduction of RPGRIP1 levels at the CC of photoreceptor cells is observed, suggesting that SPATA7 is required for the stable assembly and localization of the ciliary RPGRIP1 protein complex. Furthermore, our results pinpoint a role of this complex in protein trafficking across the CC to the outer segments, as we identified that rhodopsin accumulates in the inner segments and around the nucleus of photoreceptors. This accumulation then likely triggers the apoptosis of rod photoreceptors that was observed. Loss of Spata7 function in mice indeed results in a juvenile RP-like phenotype, characterized by progressive degeneration of photoreceptor cells and a strongly decreased light response. Together, these results indicate that SPATA7 functions as a key member of a retinal ciliopathy-associated protein complex, and that apoptosis of rod photoreceptor cells triggered by protein mislocalization is likely the mechanism of disease progression in LCA3/ juvenile RP patients.

Accumulation of N-terminal fragments of mutant huntingtin (mHTT) in the cytoplasm, nuclei and axons of neurons is a hallmark of Huntington's disease (HD), although how these fragments negatively impact neurons remains unclear. We followed the distribution of mHTT in the striata of transgenic R6/2-J2 HD mice as their motor function declined. The fraction of cells with diffuse, perinuclear or intranuclear mHTT changed in parallel with decreasing motor function. In transgenic mice, medium spiny neurons (MSNs) that exhibited perinuclear inclusions expressed cell-cycle markers typically not seen in the striata of normal mice, and these cells are preferentially lost as disease progresses. Electron microscopy reveals that perinuclear inclusions disrupt the nuclear envelope. The progression of perinuclear inclusions being accompanied by cell-cycle activation and culminating in cell death was also observed in 1° cortical neurons. These observations provide a strong correlation between the subcellular location of mHTT, disruption of the nucleus, re-entry into the cell-cycle and eventual neuronal death. They also highlight the fact that the subcellular distribution of mHTT is highly dynamic such that the distribution of mHTT observed depends greatly on the stage of the disease being examined.

A mutation in the ubiquilin 2 gene (UBQLN2) was recently identified as a cause of X-linked amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)/frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and a major component of the inclusion bodies commonly found with a wide variety of ALS. ALS-linked mutations in UBQLN2 are clustered in a unique proline-X-X repeat region, reportedly leading to impairment of the ubiquitin proteasome system. However, the molecular properties of mutant UBQLN2 remain unclear. To gain insight into the pathogenesis of UBQLN2-linked ALS/FTD, we examined the biochemical and cellular characteristics of mutant UBQLN2 in vitro. UBQLN2 localized in Rab11-positive endosomal vesicles formed by the ALS-linked molecule optineurin (OPTN). These vesicles were ubiquitin- and p62-immunopositive and also co-localized with an initiator of the autophagic process, ULK1, after amino acid starvation. An ALS-linked mutation (E478G) in OPTN abolished vesicle formation. ALS-linked mutations in UBQLN2 additively enhanced UBQLN2 aggregation and formation of inclusion bodies, resulting in mislocation from OPTN vesicles. UBQLN2 was found to be a potent regulator of the levels of the FTD-linked secretory factor progranulin, possibly via the endosomal system, and ALS-linked mutations disturbed these functional consequences. This study demonstrates that ALS-linked mutations in both OPTN and UBQLN2 interfere with the constitution of specific endosomal vesicles, suggesting that the vesicles are involved in protein homeostasis and that these proteins function in common pathological processes. These data suggest a novel disease spectrum and provide new pathological insights into OPTN and UBQLN2, enhancing our understanding of the molecular basis of ALS/FTD.

The expansion of the GGGGCC hexanucleotide repeat in the non-coding region of the chromosome 9 open-reading frame 72 (C9orf72) gene is the most common cause of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) (c9FTD/ALS). Recently, it was reported that an unconventional mechanism of repeat-associated non-ATG (RAN) translation arises from C9orf72 expansion. Sense and anti-sense transcripts of the expanded C9orf72 repeat, i.e. the dipeptide repeat protein (DRP) of glycine–alanine (poly-GA), glycine–proline (poly-GP), glycine–arginine (poly-GR), proline–arginine (poly-PR) and proline–alanine (poly-PA), are deposited in the brains of patients with c9FTD/ALS. However, the pathological significance of RAN-translated peptides remains unknown. We generated synthetic cDNAs encoding 100 repeats of DRP without a GGGGCC repeat and evaluated the effects of these proteins on cultured cells and cortical neurons in vivo. Our results revealed that the poly-GA protein formed highly aggregated ubiquitin/p62-positive inclusion bodies in neuronal cells. In contrast, the highly basic proteins poly-GR and PR also formed unique ubiquitin/p62-negative cytoplasmic inclusions, which co-localized with the components of RNA granules. The evaluation of cytotoxicity revealed that overexpressed poly-GA, poly-GP and poly-GR increased the substrates of the ubiquitin–proteasome system (UPS), including TDP-43, and enhanced the sensitivity to a proteasome inhibitor, indicating that these DRPs are cytotoxic, possibly via UPS dysfunction. The present data indicate that a gain-of-function mechanism of toxic DRPs possibly contributes to pathogenesis in c9FTD/ALS and that DRPs may serve as novel therapeutic targets in c9FTD/ALS.

Non-coding variation within TCF7L2 remains the strongest genetic determinant of type 2 diabetes risk in humans. A considerable effort has been placed in understanding the functional roles of TCF7L2 in pancreatic beta cells, despite evidence of TCF7L2 expression in various peripheral tissues important in glucose homeostasis. Here, we use a humanized mouse model overexpressing Tcf7l2, resulting in glucose intolerance, to infer the contribution of Tcf7l2 overexpression in beta cells and in other tissues to the metabolic phenotypes displayed by these mice. Restoring Tcf7l2 expression specifically in beta cells to endogenous levels, in face of its overexpression elsewhere, results in impaired insulin secretion, reduced beta cell number and islet area, corroborating data obtained in humans showing similar phenotypes as a result of manipulations leading to Tcf7l2 loss of function. Interestingly, the persistent overexpression of Tcf7l2 in non-pancreatic tissues results in a significant worsening in glucose tolerance in vivo, indicating that Tcf7l2 overexpression in beta cells does not account for the glucose intolerance in the Tcf7l2 overexpression mouse model. Collectively, these data posit that Tcf7l2 plays key roles in glucose metabolism through actions beyond pancreatic beta cells, and further points to functionally opposing cell-type specific effects for Tcf7l2 on the maintenance of balanced glucose metabolism, thereby urging a careful examination of its role in non-pancreatic tissues as well as its composite metabolic effects across distinct tissues. Uncovering these roles may lead to new therapeutic targets for type 2 diabetes.

Cytosolic accumulation of TAR DNA binding protein 43 (TDP-43) is a major neuropathological feature of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). However, the mechanisms involved in TDP-43 accumulation remain largely unknown. Previously, we reported that inhibitors of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) prevented cytosolic stress granule accumulation of TDP-43, correlating with depletion of heterogeneous ribonucleoprotein (hnRNP) K from stress granules. In the present study, we further investigated the relationship between TDP-43 and hnRNP K and their control by CDKs. Inhibition of CDK2 abrogated the accumulation of TDP-43 into stress granules. Phosphorylated CDK2 co-localized with accumulated TDP-43 and phosphorylated hnRNP K in stress granules. Inhibition of CDK2 phosphorylation blocked phosphorylation of hnRNP K, preventing its incorporation into stress granules. Due to interaction between hnRNP K with TDP-43, the loss of hnRNP K from stress granules prevented accumulation of TDP-43. Mutation of Ser216 and Ser284 phosphorylation sites on hnRNP K inhibited hnRNP K- and TDP-43-positive stress granule formation in transfected cells. The interaction between hnRNP K and TDP-43 was further confirmed by the loss of TDP-43 accumulation following siRNA-mediated inhibition of hnRNP K expression. A substantial decrease of CDK2 and hnRNP K expression in spinal cord motor neurons in ALS patients demonstrates a potential key role for these proteins in ALS and TDP-43 accumulation, indicating that further investigation of the association between hnRNP K and TDP-43 is warranted. Understanding how kinase activity modulates TDP-43 accumulation may provide new pharmacological targets for disease intervention.

Blepharophimosis, ptosis, epicanthus-inversus syndrome (BPES) is an autosomal dominant genetic disorder characterized by narrow palpebral fissures and eyelid levator muscle defects. BPES is often associated to premature ovarian insufficiency (BPES type I). FOXL2, a member of the forkhead transcription factor family, is the only gene known to be mutated in BPES. Foxl2 is essential for maintenance of ovarian identity, but the developmental origin of the facial malformations of BPES remains, so far, unexplained. In this study, we provide the first detailed account of the developmental processes leading to the craniofacial malformations associated to Foxl2. We show that, during development, Foxl2 is expressed both by Cranial Neural Crest Cells (CNCCs) and by Cranial Mesodermal Cells (CMCs), which give rise to skeletal (CNCCs and CMCs) and muscular (CMCs) components of the head. Using mice in which Foxl2 is selectively inactivated in either CNCCs or CMCs, we reveal that expression of Foxl2 in CNCCs is essential for the development of extraocular muscles. Indeed, inactivation of Foxl2 in CMCs has only minor effects on muscle development, whereas its inactivation in CNCCs provokes a severe hypoplasia of the levator palpabrae superioris and of the superior and inferior oblique muscles. We further show that Foxl2 deletion in either CNCCs or CMCs prevents eyelid closure and induces subtle skeletal developmental defects. Our results provide new insights in the complex developmental origin of human BPES and could help to understand the origin of other ocular anomalies associated to this syndrome.

Mutations in SQSTM1, encoding for the protein SQSTM1/p62, have been recently reported in 1–3.5% of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (ALS/FTLD). Inclusions positive for SQSTM1/p62 have been detected in patients with neurodegenerative disorders, including ALS/FTLD. In order to investigate the pathogenic mechanisms induced by SQSTM1 mutations in ALS/FTLD, we developed a zebrafish model. Knock-down of the sqstm1 zebrafish ortholog, as well as impairment of its splicing, led to a specific phenotype, consisting of behavioral and axonal anomalies. Here, we report swimming deficits associated with shorter motor neuronal axons that could be rescued by the overexpression of wild-type human SQSTM1. Interestingly, no rescue of the loss-of-function phenotype was observed when overexpressing human SQSTM1 constructs carrying ALS/FTLD-related mutations. Consistent with its role in autophagy regulation, we found increased mTOR levels upon knock-down of sqstm1. Furthermore, treatment of zebrafish embryos with rapamycin, a known inhibitor of the mTOR pathway, yielded an amelioration of the locomotor phenotype in the sqstm1 knock-down model. Our results suggest that loss-of-function of SQSTM1 causes phenotypic features characterized by locomotor deficits and motor neuron axonal defects that are associated with a misregulation of autophagic processes.

Vacuolar protein sorting 35 (VPS35) is a core component of the retromer complex, crucial to endosomal protein sorting and intracellular trafficking. We recently linked a mutation in VPS35 (p.D620N) to familial parkinsonism. Here, we characterize human VPS35 and retromer function in mature murine neuronal cultures and investigate neuron-specific consequences of the p.D620N mutation. We find VPS35 localizes to dendritic spines and is involved in the trafficking of excitatory AMPA-type glutamate receptors (AMPARs). Fundamental neuronal processes, including excitatory synaptic transmission, AMPAR surface expression and synaptic recycling are altered by VPS35 overexpression. VPS35 p.D620N acts as a loss-of-function mutation with respect to VPS35 activity regulating synaptic transmission and AMPAR recycling in mouse cortical neurons and dopamine neuron-like cells produced from induced pluripotent stem cells of human p.D620N carriers. Such perturbations to synaptic function likely produce chronic pathophysiological stress upon neuronal circuits that may contribute to neurodegeneration in this, and other, forms of parkinsonism.

Outflow tract (OFT) malformation accounts for ~30% of human congenital heart defects and manifests frequently in TBX1 haplo-insufficiency associated DiGeorge (22q11.2 deletion) syndrome. OFT myocardium originates from second heart field (SHF) progenitors in the pharyngeal and splanchnic mesoderm (SpM), but how these progenitors are deployed to the OFT is unclear. We find that SHF progenitors in the SpM gradually gain epithelial character and are deployed to the OFT as a cohesive sheet. Wnt5a, a non-canonical Wnt, is expressed specifically in the caudal SpM and may regulate oriented cell intercalation to incorporate SHF progenitors into an epithelial-like sheet, thereby generating the pushing force to deploy SHF cells rostrally into the OFT. Using enhancer trap and Cre transgenes, our lineage tracing experiments show that in Wnt5a null mice, SHF progenitors are trapped in the SpM and fail to be deployed to the OFT efficiently, resulting in a reduction in the inferior OFT myocardial wall and its derivative, subpulmonary myocardium. Concomitantly, the superior OFT and subaortic myocardium are expanded. Finally, in chick embryos, blocking the Wnt5a function in the caudal SpM perturbs polarized elongation of SHF progenitors, and compromises their deployment to the OFT. Collectively, our results highlight a critical role for Wnt5a in deploying SHF progenitors from the SpM to the OFT. Given that Wnt5a is a putative transcriptional target of Tbx1, and the similar reduction of subpulmonary myocardium in Tbx1 mutant mice, our results suggest that perturbing Wnt5a-mediated SHF deployment may be an important pathogenic mechanism contributing to OFT malformations in DiGeorge syndrome.

Parkinson's disease (PD) is the most common movement neurodegenerative disorder and is associated with the aggregation of α-synuclein (αSyn) and oxidative stress, hallmarks of the disease. Although the precise molecular events underlying αSyn aggregation are still unclear, oxidative stress is known to contribute to this process. Therefore, agents that either prevent oxidative stress or inhibit αSyn toxicity are expected to constitute potential drug leads for PD. Both pre-clinical and clinical studies provided evidence that (poly)phenols, pure or in extracts, might protect against neurodegenerative disorders associated with oxidative stress in the brain. In this study, we analyzed, for the first time, a (poly)phenol-enriched fraction (PEF) from leaves of Corema album, and used in vitro and cellular models to evaluate its effects on αSyn toxicity and aggregation. Interestingly, the PEF promoted the formation of non-toxic αSyn species in vitro, and inhibited its toxicity and aggregation in cells, by promoting the autophagic flux and reducing oxidative stress. Thus, C. album (poly)phenols appear as promising cytoprotective compounds, modulating central events in the pathogenesis of PD, such as αSyn aggregation and the impairment of autophagy. Ultimately, the understanding of the molecular effects of (poly)phenols will open novel opportunities for the exploitation of their beneficial effects and for drug development.

Fragile X syndrome, a common cause of intellectual disability and autism, is due to mutational silencing of the FMR1 gene leading to the absence of its gene product, fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP). FMRP is a selective RNA binding protein owing to two central K-homology domains and a C-terminal arginine-glycine-glycine (RGG) box. However, several properties of the FMRP amino terminus are unresolved. It has been documented for over a decade that the amino terminus has the ability to bind RNA despite having no recognizable functional motifs. Moreover, the amino terminus has recently been shown to bind chromatin and influence the DNA damage response as well as function in the presynaptic space, modulating action potential duration. We report here the amino terminal crystal structures of wild-type FMRP, and a mutant (R138Q) that disrupts the amino terminus function, containing an integral tandem Agenet and discover a novel KH motif.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neuromuscular disease for which there is no cure. We have previously developed a Drosophila model of ALS based on TDP-43 that recapitulates several aspects of disease pathophysiology. Using this model, we designed a drug screening strategy based on the pupal lethality phenotype induced by TDP-43 when expressed in motor neurons. In screening 1200 FDA-approved compounds, we identified the PPAR agonist pioglitazone as neuroprotective in Drosophila. Here, we show that pioglitazone can rescue TDP-43-dependent locomotor dysfunction in motor neurons and glia but not in muscles. Testing additional models of ALS, we find that pioglitazone is also neuroprotective when FUS, but not SOD1, is expressed in motor neurons. Interestingly, survival analyses of TDP or FUS models show no increase in lifespan, which is consistent with recent clinical trials. Using a pharmacogenetic approach, we show that the predicted Drosophila PPAR homologs, E75 and E78, are in vivo targets of pioglitazone. Finally, using a global metabolomic approach, we identify a set of metabolites that pioglitazone can restore in the context of TDP-43 expression in motor neurons. Taken together, our data provide evidence that modulating PPAR activity, although not effective at improving lifespan, provides a molecular target for mitigating locomotor dysfunction in TDP-43 and FUS but not SOD1 models of ALS in Drosophila. Furthermore, our data also identify several ‘biomarkers’ of the disease that may be useful in developing therapeutics and in future clinical trials.

Mutations in RPE65 or lecithin-retinol acyltransferase (LRAT) disrupt 11-cis-retinal synthesis and cause Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), a severe hereditary blindness occurring in early childhood. The pathology is attributed to a combination of 11-cis-retinal deficiency and photoreceptor degeneration. The mistrafficking of cone membrane-associated proteins including cone opsins (M- and S-opsins), cone transducin (Gαt2), G-protein-coupled receptor kinase 1 (GRK1) and guanylate cyclase 1 (GC1) has been suggested to play a role in cone degeneration. However, their precise role in cone degeneration is unclear. Here we investigated the role of S-opsin (Opn1sw) in cone degeneration in Lrat/–, a murine model for LCA, by genetic ablation of S-opsin. We show that deletion of just one allele of S-opsin from Lrat/– mice is sufficient to prevent the rapid cone degeneration for at least 1 month. Deletion of both alleles of S-opsin prevents cone degeneration for an extended period (at least 12 months). This genetic prevention is accompanied by a reduction of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress in Lrat/– photoreceptors. Despite cone survival in Opn1sw–/–Lrat/– mice, cone membrane-associated proteins (e.g. Gαt2, GRK1 and GC1) continue to have trafficking problems. Our results suggest that cone opsins are the ‘culprit’ linking 11-cis-retinal deficiency to cone degeneration in LCA. This result has important implications for the current gene therapy strategy that emphasizes the need for a combinatorial therapy to both improve vision and slow photoreceptor degeneration.

Fibroblast growth factor receptor 3 (FGFR3) plays a critical role in the control of endochondral ossification, and bone growth and mutations that cause hyperactivation of FGFR3 are responsible for a collection of developmental disorders that feature poor endochondral bone growth. FGFR3 is expressed in proliferating chondrocytes of the cartilaginous growth plate but also in chondrocytes that have exited the cell cycle and entered the prehypertrophic phase of chondrocyte differentiation. Achondroplasia disorders feature defects in chondrocyte proliferation and differentiation, and the defects in differentiation have generally been considered to be a secondary manifestation of altered proliferation. By initiating a mutant activated knockin allele of FGFR3 (FGFR3K650E) that causes Thanatophoric Dysplasia Type II (TDII) specifically in prehypertrophic chondrocytes, we show that mutant FGFR3 induces a differentiation block at this stage independent of any changes in proliferation. The differentiation block coincided with persistent expression of SOX9, the master regulator of chondrogenesis, and reducing SOX9 dosage allowed chondrocyte differentiation to proceed and significantly improved endochondral bone growth in TDII. These findings suggest that a proliferation-independent and SOX9-dependent differentiation block is a key driving mechanism responsible for poor endochondral bone growth in achondroplasia disorders caused by mutations in FGFR3.

Copy number variants (CNVs) have been proposed as a possible source of ‘missing heritability’ in complex human diseases. Two studies of type 1 diabetes (T1D) found null associations with common copy number polymorphisms, but CNVs of low frequency and high penetrance could still play a role. We used the Log-R-ratio intensity data from a dense single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) array, ImmunoChip, to detect rare CNV deletions (rDELs) and duplications (rDUPs) in 6808 T1D cases, 9954 controls and 2206 families with T1D-affected offspring. Initial analyses detected CNV associations. However, these were shown to be false-positive findings, failing replication with polymerase chain reaction. We developed a pipeline of quality control (QC) tests that were calibrated using systematic testing of sensitivity and specificity. The case–control odds ratios (OR) of CNV burden on T1D risk resulting from this QC pipeline converged on unity, suggesting no global frequency difference in rDELs or rDUPs. There was evidence that deletions could impact T1D risk for a small minority of cases, with enrichment for rDELs longer than 400 kb (OR = 1.57, P = 0.005). There were also 18 de novo rDELs detected in affected offspring but none for unaffected siblings (P = 0.03). No specific CNV regions showed robust evidence for association with T1D, although frequencies were lower than expected (most less than 0.1%), substantially reducing statistical power, which was examined in detail. We present an R-package, plumbCNV, which provides an automated approach for QC and detection of rare CNVs that can facilitate equivalent analyses of large-scale SNP array datasets.

Human height is associated with risk of multiple diseases and is profoundly determined by an individual's genetic makeup and shows a high degree of ethnic heterogeneity. Large-scale genome-wide association (GWA) analyses of adult height in Europeans have identified nearly 180 genetic loci. A recent study showed high replicability of results from Europeans-based GWA studies in Asians; however, population-specific loci may exist due to distinct linkage disequilibrium patterns. We carried out a GWA meta-analysis in 93 926 individuals from East Asia. We identified 98 loci, including 17 novel and 81 previously reported loci, associated with height at P < 5 x 10–8, together explaining 8.89% of phenotypic variance. Among the newly identified variants, 10 are commonly distributed (minor allele frequency, MAF > 5%) in Europeans, with comparable frequencies with in Asians, and 7 single-nucleotide polymorphisms are with low frequency (MAF < 5%) in Europeans. In addition, our data suggest that novel biological pathway such as the protein tyrosine phosphatase family is involved in regulation of height. The findings from this study considerably expand our knowledge of the genetic architecture of human height in Asians.

Fever predicts clinical outcomes in sepsis, trauma and during cardiovascular stress, yet the genetic determinants are poorly understood. We used an integrative genomics approach to identify novel genomic determinants of the febrile response to experimental endotoxemia. We highlight multiple integrated lines of evidence establishing the clinical relevance of this novel fever locus. Through genome-wide association study (GWAS) of evoked endotoxemia (lipopolysaccharide (LPS) 1 ng/kg IV) in healthy subjects of European ancestry we discovered a locus on chr7p11.2 significantly associated with the peak febrile response to LPS (top single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) rs7805622, P = 2.4 x 10–12), as well as with temperature fluctuation over time. We replicated this association in a smaller independent LPS study (rs7805622, P = 0.03). In clinical translation, this locus was also associated with temperature and mortality in critically ill patients with trauma or severe sepsis. The top GWAS SNPs are not located within protein-coding genes, but have significant cis-expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) associations with expression of a cluster of genes ~400 kb upstream, several of which (SUMF2, CCT6A, GBAS) are regulated by LPS in vivo in blood cells. LPS- and cold-treatment of adipose stromal cells in vitro suggest genotype-specific modulation of eQTL candidate genes (PSPH). Several eQTL genes were up-regulated in brown and white adipose following cold exposure in mice, highlighting a potential role in thermogenesis. Thus, through genomic interrogation of experimental endotoxemia, we identified and replicated a novel fever locus on chr7p11.2 that modulates clinical responses in trauma and sepsis, and highlight integrated in vivo and in vitro evidence for possible novel cis candidate genes conserved across human and mouse.