Otitis media with effusion (OME) is the most common cause of hearing loss in children and tympanostomy to alleviate the condition remains the commonest surgical intervention in children in the developed world. Chronic and recurrent forms of OM are known to have a very significant genetic component, however, until recently little was known of the underlying genes involved. The identification of mouse models of chronic OM has indicated a role of transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ) signalling and its impact on responses to hypoxia in the inflamed middle ear. We have, therefore, investigated the role of TGFβ signalling and identified and characterized a new model of chronic OM carrying a mutation in the gene for transforming growth interacting factor 1 (Tgif1). Tgif1 homozygous mutant mice have significantly raised auditory thresholds due to a conductive deafness arising from a chronic effusion starting at around 3 weeks of age. The OM is accompanied by a significant thickening of the middle ear mucosa lining, expansion of mucin-secreting goblet cell populations and raised levels of vascular endothelial growth factor, TNF-α and IL-1β in ear fluids. We also identified downstream effects on TGFβ signalling in middle ear epithelia at the time of development of chronic OM. Both phosphorylated SMAD2 and p21 levels were lowered in the homozygous mutant, demonstrating a suppression of the TGFβ pathway. The identification and characterization of the Tgif mutant supports the role of TGFβ signalling in the development of chronic OM and provides an important candidate gene for genetic studies in the human population.
Mutations in the epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM; CD326) gene are causal for congenital tufting enteropathy (CTE), a disease characterized by intestinal abnormalities resulting in lethal diarrhea in newborns. Why the different mutations all lead to the same disease is not clear. Here, we report that most mutations, including a novel intronic variant, will result in lack of EpCAM's transmembrane domain, whereas two mutations allow transmembrane localization. We find that these mutants are not routed to the plasma membrane, and that truncated mutants are secreted or degraded. Thus, all epcam mutations lead to loss of cell-surface EpCAM, resulting in CTE.
Mutations in Parkin or PINK1 are the most common cause of recessively inherited parkinsonism. Parkin and PINK1 function in a conserved mitochondrial quality control pathway, in which PINK1, a putative mitochondrial kinase, directs Parkin, a cytosolic E3 ubiquitin ligase, selectively to dysfunctional mitochondria to promote their isolation, immobilization and degradation by macroautophagy (hereafter, mitophagy). As Parkin recruitment to mitochondria is robustly induced by PINK1 expression on the outer mitochondrial membrane, Parkin recruitment to mitochondria was used as an assay for PINK1 function. Unexpectedly, mutation of serine residues within the activation segment of PINK1 uncovered a temperature-sensitive variant of PINK1 (tsPINK1). tsPINK1 allowed for the first time the disassociation of PINK1 activity from its expression and localization. Additionally, extensive mutagenesis identified three disease-associated variants in the activation segment and one in an α-helix N-terminal to kinase domain (Q126P) that are similarly thermally labile, suggesting that their activity could be restored post-translationally (e.g. by reducing the temperature or by a chemical or pharmacologic chaperone). Together, these findings suggest that tsPINK1 may represent a valuable tool for the analysis of the PINK1/Parkin pathway in human cells; additionally, as the serine residue promoting thermal lability is conserved among Mus musculus, Danio rerio, Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans, it may serve as the basis for developing other temperature-sensitive models for the study of recessive parkinsonism and mitophagy. Finally, these results suggest that PINK1 kinase function could be restored for a subset of patients with PINK1 mutations, and perhaps alter the course of their disease.
Two siblings from consanguineous parents died perinatally with a condition characterized by generalized hypotonia, respiratory insufficiency, arthrogryposis, microcephaly, congenital brain malformations and hyperglycinemia. Catalytic activities of the mitochondrial respiratory complexes I and II were deficient in skeletal muscle, a finding suggestive of an inborn error in mitochondrial biogenesis. Homozygosity mapping identified IBA57 located in the largest homozygous region on chromosome 1 as a culprit candidate gene. IBA57 is known to be involved in the biosynthesis of mitochondrial [4Fe-4S] proteins. Sequence analysis of IBA57 revealed the homozygous mutation c.941A > C, p.Gln314Pro. Severely decreased amounts of IBA57 protein were observed in skeletal muscle and cultured skin fibroblasts from the affected subjects. HeLa cells depleted of IBA57 showed biochemical defects resembling the ones found in patient-derived cells, including a decrease in various mitochondrial [4Fe-4S] proteins and in proteins covalently linked to lipoic acid (LA), a cofactor produced by the [4Fe-4S] protein LA synthase. The defects could be complemented by wild-type IBA57 and partially by mutant IBA57. As a result of the mutation, IBA57 protein was excessively degraded, an effect ameliorated by protease inhibitors. Hence, we propose that the mutation leads to partial functional impairment of IBA57, yet the major pathogenic impact is due to its proteolytic degradation below physiologically critical levels. In conclusion, the ensuing lethal complex biochemical phenotype of a novel metabolic syndrome results from multiple Fe/S protein defects caused by a deficiency in the Fe/S cluster assembly protein IBA57.
Abnormal metabolism of the tau protein is central to the pathogenesis of a number of dementias, including Alzheimer's disease. Aberrant alternative splicing of exon 10 in the tau pre-mRNA resulting in an imbalance of tau isoforms is one of the molecular causes of the inherited tauopathy, FTDP-17. We showed previously in heterologous systems that exon 10 inclusion in tau mRNA could be modulated by spliceosome-mediated RNA trans-splicing (SMaRT). Here, we evaluated the potential of trans-splicing RNA reprogramming to correct tau mis-splicing in differentiated neurons in a mouse model of tau mis-splicing, the htau transgenic mouse line, expressing the human MAPT gene in a null mouse Mapt background. Trans-splicing molecules designed to increase exon 10 inclusion were delivered to neurons using lentiviral vectors. We demonstrate reprogramming of tau transcripts at the RNA level after transduction of cultured neurons or after direct delivery and long-term expression of viral vectors into the brain of htau mice in vivo. Tau RNA trans-splicing resulted in an increase in exon 10 inclusion in the mature tau mRNA. Importantly, we also show that the trans-spliced product is translated into a full-length chimeric tau protein. These results validate the potential of SMaRT to correct tau mis-splicing and provide a framework for its therapeutic application to neurodegenerative conditions linked to aberrant RNA processing.
Proper function of the motor unit is dependent upon the correct development of dendrites and axons. The infant/childhood onset motoneuron disease spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), caused by low levels of the survival motor neuron (SMN) protein, is characterized by muscle denervation and paralysis. Although different SMA models have shown neuromuscular junction defects and/or motor axon defects, a comprehensive analysis of motoneuron development in vivo under conditions of low SMN will give insight into why the motor unit becomes dysfunctional. We have generated genetic mutants in zebrafish expressing low levels of SMN from the earliest stages of development. Analysis of motoneurons in these mutants revealed motor axons were often shorter and had fewer branches. We also found that motoneurons had significantly fewer dendritic branches and those present were shorter. Analysis of motor axon filopodial dynamics in live embryos revealed that mutants had fewer filopodia and their average half-life was shorter. To determine when SMN was needed to rescue motoneuron development, SMN was conditionally induced in smn mutants during embryonic stages. Only when SMN was added back soon after motoneurons were born, could later motor axon development be rescued. Importantly, analysis of motor behavior revealed that animals with motor axon defects had significant deficits in motor output. We also show that SMN is required earlier for motoneuron development than for survival. These data support that SMN is needed early in development of motoneuron dendrites and axons to develop normally and that this is essential for proper connectivity and movement.
Rett syndrome (RTT), an X-linked postnatal disorder, results from mutations in Methyl CpG-binding protein 2 (MECP2). Survival and breathing in Mecp2NULL/Y animals are improved by an N-terminal tripeptide of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) treatment. We determined that Mecp2NULL/Y animals also have a metabolic syndrome and investigated whether IGF-I treatment might improve this phenotype. Mecp2NULL/Y mice were treated with a full-length IGF-I modified with the addition of polyethylene glycol (PEG-IGF-I), which improves pharmacological properties. Low-dose PEG-IGF-I treatment slightly improved lifespan and heart rate in Mecp2NULL/Y mice; however, high-dose PEG-IGF-I decreased lifespan. To determine whether insulinotropic off-target effects of PEG-IGF-I caused the detrimental effect, we treated Mecp2NULL/Y mice with insulin, which also decreased lifespan. Thus, the clinical benefit of IGF-I treatment in RTT may critically depend on the dose used, and caution should be taken when initiating clinical trials with these compounds because the beneficial therapeutic window is narrow.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is characterized by severe degeneration and necrosis of both skeletal and cardiac muscle. While many experimental therapies have shown great promise in treating skeletal muscle disease, an effective therapy for Duchenne cardiomyopathy remains a challenge in large animal models and human patients. The current views on cardiac consequences of skeletal muscle-centered therapy are controversial. Studies performed in young adult mdx mice (a mild DMD mouse model) have yielded opposing results. Since mdx mice do not develop dystrophic cardiomyopathy until ≥21 months of age, we reasoned that old mdx mice may represent a better model to assess the impact of skeletal muscle rescue on dystrophic heart disease. Here, we aged skeletal muscle-specific micro-dystrophin transgenic mdx mice to 23 months and examined the cardiac phenotype. As expected, transgenic mdx mice had minimal skeletal muscle disease and they also outperformed original mdx mice on treadmill running. On cardiac examination, the dystrophin-null heart of transgenic mdx mice displayed severe cardiomyopathy matching that of non-transgenic mdx mice. Specifically, both the strains showed similar heart fibrosis and cardiac function deterioration in systole and diastole. Cardiac output and ejection fraction were also equally compromised. Our results suggest that skeletal muscle rescue neither aggravates nor alleviates cardiomyopathy in aged mdx mice. These findings underscore the importance of treating both skeletal and cardiac muscles in DMD therapy.
Environmental factors including ionizing radiation and chemical agents have been known to be able to induce DNA rearrangements and cause genomic structural variations (SVs); however, the roles of intrinsic characteristics of the human genome, such as regional genome architecture, in SV formation and the potential mechanisms underlying genomic instability remain to be further elucidated. Recently, locus-specific observations showed that ‘self-chain’ (SC), a group of short low-copy repeats (LCRs) in the human genome, can induce autism-associated SV mutations of the MECP2 and NRXN1 genes. In this study, we conducted a genome-wide analysis to investigate SCs and their potential roles in genomic SV formation. Utilizing a vast amount of human SV data, we observed a significant biased distribution of human germline SV breakpoints to SC regions. Notably, the breakpoint distribution pattern is different between SV types across deletion, duplication, inversion and insertion. Our observations were coincident with a mechanism of SC-induced DNA replicative errors, whereas SC may sporadically be used as substrates of nonallelic homologous recombination (NAHR). This contention was further supported by our consistent findings in somatic SV mutations of cancer genomes, suggesting a general mechanism of SC-induced genome instability in human germ and somatic cells.
Mowat–Wilson syndrome (MWS) is a severe intellectual disability (ID)-distinctive facial gestalt-multiple congenital anomaly syndrome, commonly associating microcephaly, epilepsy, corpus callosum agenesis, conotruncal heart defects, urogenital malformations and Hirschsprung disease (HSCR). MWS is caused by de novo heterozygous mutations in the ZEB2 gene. The majority of mutations lead to haplo-insufficiency through premature stop codons or large gene deletions. Only three missense mutations have been reported so far; none of which resides in a known functional domain of ZEB2. In this study, we report and analyze the functional consequences of three novel missense mutations, p.Tyr1055Cys, p.Ser1071Pro and p.His1045Arg, identified in the highly conserved C-zinc-finger (C-ZF) domain of ZEB2. Patients' phenotype included the facial gestalt of MWS and moderate ID, but no microcephaly, heart defects or HSCR. In vitro studies showed that all the three mutations prevented binding and repression of the E-cadherin promoter, a characterized ZEB2 target gene. Taking advantage of the zebrafish morphant technology, we performed rescue experiments using wild-type (WT) and mutant human ZEB2 mRNAs. Variable, mutation-dependent, embryo rescue, correlating with the severity of patients' phenotype, was observed. Our data provide evidence that these missense mutations cause a partial loss of function of ZEB2, suggesting that its role is not restricted to repression of E-cadherin. Functional domains other than C-ZF may play a role in early embryonic development. Finally, these findings broaden the clinical spectrum of ZEB2 mutations, indicating that MWS ought to be considered in patients with lesser degrees of ID and a suggestive facial gestalt, even in the absence of congenital malformation.
Large intronic expansions of the triplet-repeat sequence (GAA.TTC) cause transcriptional repression of the Frataxin gene (FXN) leading to Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA). We previously found that GAA-triplet expansions stimulate heterochromatinization in vivo in transgenic mice. We report here using chromosome conformation capture (3C) coupled with high-throughput sequencing that the GAA-repeat expansion in FRDA cells stimulates a higher-order structure as a fragment containing the GAA-repeat expansion showed an increased interaction frequency with genomic regions along the FXN locus. This is consistent with a more compacted chromatin and coincided with an increase in both constitutive H3K9me3 and facultative H3K27me3 heterochromatic marks in FRDA. Consistent with this, DNase I accessibility in regions flanking the GAA repeats in patients was decreased compared with healthy controls. Strikingly, this effect could be antagonized with the class III histone deactylase (HDAC) inhibitor vitamin B3 (nicotinamide) which activated the silenced FXN gene in several FRDA models. Examination of the FXN locus revealed a reduction of H3K9me3 and H3K27me3, an increased accessibility to DNase I and an induction of euchromatic H3 and H4 histone acetylations upon nicotinamide treatment. In addition, transcriptomic analysis of nicotinamide treated and untreated FRDA primary lymphocytes revealed that the expression of 67% of genes known to be dysregulated in FRDA was ameliorated by the treatment. These findings show that nictotinamide can up-regulate the FXN gene and reveal a potential mechanism of action for nicotinamide in reactivating the epigenetically silenced FXN gene and therefore support the further assessment of HDAC inhibitors (HDACi's) in FRDA and diseases caused by a similar mechanism.
Mutations in the gene encoding Fused in Sarcoma (FUS) cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal neurodegenerative disorder. FUS is a predominantly nuclear DNA- and RNA-binding protein that is involved in RNA processing. Large FUS-immunoreactive inclusions fill the perikaryon of surviving motor neurons of ALS patients carrying mutations at post-mortem. This sequestration of FUS is predicted to disrupt RNA processing and initiate neurodegeneration. Here, we demonstrate that C-terminal ALS mutations disrupt the nuclear localizing signal (NLS) of FUS resulting in cytoplasmic accumulation in transfected cells and patient fibroblasts. FUS mislocalization is rescued by the addition of the wild-type FUS NLS to mutant proteins. We also show that oxidative stress recruits mutant FUS to cytoplasmic stress granules where it is able to bind and sequester wild-type FUS. While FUS interacts with itself directly by protein–protein interaction, the recruitment of FUS to stress granules and interaction with PABP are RNA dependent. These findings support a two-hit hypothesis, whereby cytoplasmic mislocalization of FUS protein, followed by cellular stress, contributes to the formation of cytoplasmic aggregates that may sequester FUS, disrupt RNA processing and initiate motor neuron degeneration.
The Vesicle-associated membrane protein (VAMP)-Associated Protein B (VAPB) is the causative gene of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 8 (ALS8) in humans. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease characterized by selective death of motor neurons leading to spasticity, muscle atrophy and paralysis. VAP proteins have been implicated in various cellular processes, including intercellular signalling, synaptic remodelling, lipid transport and membrane trafficking and yet, the molecular mechanisms underlying ALS8 pathogenesis remain poorly understood. We identified the conserved phosphoinositide phosphatase Sac1 as a Drosophila VAP (DVAP)-binding partner and showed that DVAP is required to maintain normal levels of phosphoinositides. Downregulating either Sac1 or DVAP disrupts axonal transport, synaptic growth, synaptic microtubule integrity and the localization of several postsynaptic components. Expression of the disease-causing allele (DVAP-P58S) in a fly model for ALS8 induces neurodegeneration, elicits synaptic defects similar to those of DVAP or Sac1 downregulation and increases phosphoinositide levels. Consistent with a role for Sac1-mediated increase of phosphoinositide levels in ALS8 pathogenesis, we found that Sac1 downregulation induces neurodegeneration in a dosage-dependent manner. In addition, we report that Sac1 is sequestered into the DVAP-P58S-induced aggregates and that reducing phosphoinositide levels rescues the neurodegeneration and suppresses the synaptic phenotypes associated with DVAP-P58S transgenic expression. These data underscore the importance of DVAP–Sac1 interaction in controlling phosphoinositide metabolism and provide mechanistic evidence for a crucial role of phosphoinositide levels in VAP-induced ALS.
Small intestinal epithelial cells (sIECs) have a significant share in whole body metabolism as they perform enzymatic digestion and absorption of nutrients. Furthermore, the diet plays a key role in a number of complex diseases including obesity and diabetes. The impact of diet and altered genetic backgrounds on human metabolism may be studied by using computational modeling. A metabolic reconstruction of human sIECs was manually assembled using the literature. The resulting sIEC model was subjected to two different diets to obtain condition-specific metabolic models. Fifty defined metabolic tasks evaluated the functionalities of these models, along with the respective secretion profiles, which distinguished between impacts of different dietary regimes. Under the average American diet, the sIEC model resulted in higher secretion flux for metabolites implicated in metabolic syndrome. In addition, enzymopathies were analyzed in the context of the sIEC metabolism. Computed results were compared with reported gastrointestinal (GI) pathologies and biochemical defects as well as with biomarker patterns used in their diagnosis. Based on our simulations, we propose that (i) sIEC metabolism is perturbed by numerous enzymopathies, which can be used to study cellular adaptive mechanisms specific for such disorders, and in the identification of novel co-morbidities, (ii) porphyrias are associated with both heme synthesis and degradation and (iii) disturbed intestinal gamma-aminobutyric acid synthesis may be linked to neurological manifestations of various enzymopathies. Taken together, the sIEC model represents a comprehensive, biochemically accurate platform for studying the function of sIEC and their role in whole body metabolism.
Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCL), commonly referred to as Batten disease, is a group of autosomal recessive neurodegenerative diseases of childhood characterized by seizures, blindness, motor and cognitive decline and premature death. Currently, there are over 400 known mutations in 14 different genes, leading to five overlapping clinical variants of NCL. A large portion of these mutations lead to premature stop codons (PTCs) and are predicted to predispose mRNA transcripts to nonsense-mediated decay (NMD). Nonsense-mediated decay is associated with a number of other genetic diseases and is an important regulator of disease pathogenesis. We contend that NMD targets PTCs in NCL gene transcripts for degradation. A number of PTC mutations in CLN1, CLN2 and CLN3 lead to a significant decrease in mRNA transcripts and a corresponding decrease in protein levels and function in patient-derived lymphoblast cell lines. Inhibiting NMD leads to an increased transcript level, and where protein function is known, increased activity. Treatment with read-through drugs also leads to increased protein function. Thus, NMD provides a promising therapeutic target that would allow read-through of transcripts to enhance protein function and possibly ameliorate Batten disease pathogenesis.
The pubertal height growth spurt is a distinctive feature of childhood growth reflecting both the central onset of puberty and local growth factors. Although little is known about the underlying genetics, growth variability during puberty correlates with adult risks for hormone-dependent cancer and adverse cardiometabolic health. The only gene so far associated with pubertal height growth, LIN28B, pleiotropically influences childhood growth, puberty and cancer progression, pointing to shared underlying mechanisms. To discover genetic loci influencing pubertal height and growth and to place them in context of overall growth and maturation, we performed genome-wide association meta-analyses in 18 737 European samples utilizing longitudinally collected height measurements. We found significant associations (P < 1.67 x 10–8) at 10 loci, including LIN28B. Five loci associated with pubertal timing, all impacting multiple aspects of growth. In particular, a novel variant correlated with expression of MAPK3, and associated both with increased prepubertal growth and earlier menarche. Another variant near ADCY3-POMC associated with increased body mass index, reduced pubertal growth and earlier puberty. Whereas epidemiological correlations suggest that early puberty marks a pathway from rapid prepubertal growth to reduced final height and adult obesity, our study shows that individual loci associating with pubertal growth have variable longitudinal growth patterns that may differ from epidemiological observations. Overall, this study uncovers part of the complex genetic architecture linking pubertal height growth, the timing of puberty and childhood obesity and provides new information to pinpoint processes linking these traits.
Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) have identified multiple common genetic variants associated with an increased risk of testicular germ cell tumors (TGCTs). A previous GWAS reported a possible TGCT susceptibility locus on chromosome 1q23 in the UCK2 gene, but failed to reach genome-wide significance following replication. We interrogated this region by conducting a meta-analysis of two independent GWASs including a total of 940 TGCT cases and 1559 controls for 122 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) on chromosome 1q23 and followed up the most significant SNPs in an additional 2202 TGCT cases and 2386 controls from four case–control studies. We observed genome-wide significant associations for several UCK2 markers, the most significant of which was for rs3790665 (PCombined = 6.0 x 10–9). Additional support is provided from an independent familial study of TGCT where a significant over-transmission for rs3790665 with TGCT risk was observed (PFBAT = 2.3 x 10–3). Here, we provide substantial evidence for the association between UCK2 genetic variation and TGCT risk.
Visual refractive errors (REs) are complex genetic traits with a largely unknown etiology. To date, genome-wide association studies (GWASs) of moderate size have identified several novel risk markers for RE, measured here as mean spherical equivalent (MSE). We performed a GWAS using a total of 7280 samples from five cohorts: the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS); the KORA study (‘Cooperative Health Research in the Region of Augsburg’); the Framingham Eye Study (FES); the Ogliastra Genetic Park-Talana (OGP-Talana) Study and the Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Genotyping was performed on Illumina and Affymetrix platforms with additional markers imputed to the HapMap II reference panel. We identified a new genome-wide significant locus on chromosome 16 (rs10500355, P = 3.9 x 10–9) in a combined discovery and replication set (26 953 samples). This single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) is located within the RBFOX1 gene which is a neuron-specific splicing factor regulating a wide range of alternative splicing events implicated in neuronal development and maturation, including transcription factors, other splicing factors and synaptic proteins.