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Human Molecular Genetics

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Ocular coloboma is a congenital defect resulting from failure of normal closure of the optic fissure during embryonic eye development. This birth defect causes childhood blindness worldwide, yet the genetic etiology is poorly understood. Here, we identified a novel homozygous mutation in the SALL2 gene in members of a consanguineous family affected with non-syndromic ocular coloboma variably affecting the iris and retina. This mutation, c.85G>T, introduces a premature termination codon (p.Glu29*) predicted to truncate the SALL2 protein so that it lacks three clusters of zinc-finger motifs that are essential for DNA-binding activity. This discovery identifies SALL2 as the third member of the Drosophila homeotic Spalt-like family of developmental transcription factor genes implicated in human disease. SALL2 is expressed in the developing human retina at the time of, and subsequent to, optic fissure closure. Analysis of Sall2-deficient mouse embryos revealed delayed apposition of the optic fissure margins and the persistence of an anterior retinal coloboma phenotype after birth. Sall2-deficient embryos displayed correct posterior closure toward the optic nerve head, and upon contact of the fissure margins, dissolution of the basal lamina occurred and PAX2, known to be critical for this process, was expressed normally. Anterior closure was disrupted with the fissure margins failing to meet, or in some cases misaligning leading to a retinal lesion. These observations demonstrate, for the first time, a role for SALL2 in eye morphogenesis and that loss of function of the gene causes ocular coloboma in humans and mice.


The hereditary spastic paraplegias (HSPs) are a heterogeneous group of motorneuron diseases characterized by progressive spasticity and paresis of the lower limbs. Mutations in Spastic Gait 4 (SPG4), encoding spastin, are the most frequent cause of HSP. To understand how mutations in SPG4 affect human neurons, we generated human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) from fibroblasts of two patients carrying a c.1684C>T nonsense mutation and from two controls. These SPG4 and control hiPSCs were able to differentiate into neurons and glia at comparable efficiency. All known spastin isoforms were reduced in SPG4 neuronal cells. The complexity of SPG4 neurites was decreased, which was paralleled by an imbalance of axonal transport with less retrograde movement. Prominent neurite swellings with disrupted microtubules were present in SPG4 neurons at an ultrastructural level. While some of these swellings contain acetylated and detyrosinated tubulin, these tubulin modifications were unchanged in total cell lysates of SPG4 neurons. Upregulation of another microtubule-severing protein, p60 katanin, may partially compensate for microtubuli dynamics in SPG4 neurons. Overexpression of the M1 or M87 spastin isoforms restored neurite length, branching, numbers of primary neurites and reduced swellings in SPG4 neuronal cells. We conclude that neurite complexity and maintenance in HSP patient-derived neurons are critically sensitive to spastin gene dosage. Our data show that elevation of single spastin isoform levels is sufficient to restore neurite complexity and reduce neurite swellings in patient cells. Furthermore, our human model offers an ideal platform for pharmacological screenings with the goal to restore physiological spastin levels in SPG4 patients.


X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease caused by mutations in the ABCD1 gene, encoding a member of the peroxisomal ABC transporter family. The ABCD1 protein transports CoA-activated very long-chain fatty acids (VLCFAs) into peroxisomes for degradation via β-oxidation. In the severest form, X-ALD patients suffer from inflammatory demyelination of the brain. As the extent of the metabolic defect in the main immune cells is unknown, we explored their phenotypes concerning mRNA expression pattern of the three peroxisomal ABC transporters, VLCFA accumulation and peroxisomal β-oxidation. In controls, ABCD1 expression was high in monocytes, intermediate in B cells and low in T cells; ABCD2 expression was extremely low in monocytes, intermediate in B cells and highest in T cells; ABCD3 mRNA was equally distributed. In X-ALD patients, the expression patterns remained unaltered; accordingly, monocytes, which lack compensatory VLCFA transport by ABCD2, displayed the severest biochemical phenotype with a 6-fold accumulation of C26:0 and a striking 70% reduction in peroxisomal β-oxidation activity. In contrast, VLCFA metabolism was close to control values in B cells and T cells, supporting the hypothesis that sufficient ABCD2 is present to compensate for ABCD1 deficiency. Thus, the vulnerability of the main immune cell types is highly variable in X-ALD. Based on these results, we propose that in X-ALD the halt of inflammation after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation relies particularly on the replacement of the monocyte lineage. Additionally, these findings support the concept that ABCD2 is a target for pharmacological induction as an alternative therapeutic strategy.


Tecta is a modular, non-collagenous protein of the tectorial membrane (TM), an extracellular matrix of the cochlea essential for normal hearing. Missense mutations in Tecta cause dominant forms of non-syndromic deafness and a genotype–phenotype correlation has been reported in humans, with mutations in different Tecta domains causing mid- or high-frequency hearing impairments that are either stable or progressive. Three mutant mice were created as models for human Tecta mutations; the TectaL1820F,G1824D/+ mouse for zona pellucida (ZP) domain mutations causing stable mid-frequency hearing loss in a Belgian family, the TectaC1837G/+ mouse for a ZP-domain mutation underlying progressive mid-frequency hearing loss in a Spanish family and the TectaC1619S/+ mouse for a zonadhesin-like (ZA) domain mutation responsible for progressive, high-frequency hearing loss in a French family. Mutations in the ZP and ZA domains generate distinctly different changes in the structure of the TM. Auditory brainstem response thresholds in the 8–40 kHz range are elevated by 30–40 dB in the ZP-domain mutants, whilst those in the ZA-domain mutant are elevated by 20–30 dB. The phenotypes are stable and no evidence has been found for a progressive deterioration in TM structure or auditory function. Despite elevated auditory thresholds, the Tecta mutant mice all exhibit an enhanced tendency to have audiogenic seizures in response to white noise stimuli at low sound pressure levels (≤84 dB SPL), revealing a previously unrecognised consequence of Tecta mutations. These results, together with those from previous studies, establish an allelic series for Tecta unequivocally demonstrating an association between genotype and phenotype.


Heterozygous loss-of-function (LOF) mutations in the gene encoding the DNA-binding protein, SATB2, result in micrognathia and cleft palate in both humans and mice. In three unrelated individuals, we show that translocation breakpoints (BPs) up to 896 kb 3' of SATB2 polyadenylation site cause a phenotype which is indistinguishable from that caused by SATB2 LOF mutations. This syndrome comprises long nose, small mouth, micrognathia, cleft palate, arachnodactyly and intellectual disability. These BPs map to a gene desert between PLCL1 and SATB2. We identified three putative cis-regulatory elements (CRE1–3) using a comparative genomic approach each of which would be placed in trans relative to SATB2 by all three BPs. CRE1–3 each bind p300 and mono-methylated H3K4 consistent with enhancer function. In silico analysis suggested that CRE1–3 contain one or more conserved SOX9-binding sites, and this binding was confirmed using chromatin immunoprecipitation on cells derived from mouse embryonic pharyngeal arch. Interphase bacterial artificial chromosome fluorescence in situ hybridization measurements in embryonic craniofacial tissues showed that the orthologous region in mice exhibits Satb2 expression-dependent chromatin decondensation consistent with Satb2 being a target gene of CRE1–3. To assess their in vivo function, we made multiple stable reporter transgenic lines for each enhancer in zebrafish. CRE2 was shown to drive SATB2-like expression in the embryonic craniofacial region. This expression could be eliminated by mutating the SOX9-binding site of CRE2. These observations suggest that SATB2 and SOX9 may be acting together via complex cis-regulation to coordinate the growth of the developing jaw.


Defects of the oxidative phosphorylation system, in particular of cytochrome-c oxidase (COX, respiratory chain complex IV), are common causes of Leigh syndrome (LS), which is a rare neurodegenerative disorder with severe progressive neurological symptoms that usually present during infancy or early childhood. The COX-deficient form of LS is commonly caused by mutations in genes encoding COX assembly factors, e.g. SURF1, SCO1, SCO2 or COX10. However, other mutations affecting genes that encode proteins not directly involved in COX assembly can also cause LS. The leucine-rich pentatricopeptide repeat containing protein (LRPPRC) regulates mRNA stability, polyadenylation and coordinates mitochondrial translation. In humans, mutations in Lrpprc cause the French Canadian type of LS. Despite the finding that LRPPRC deficiency affects the stability of most mitochondrial mRNAs, its pathophysiological effect has mainly been attributed to COX deficiency. Surprisingly, we show here that the impaired mitochondrial respiration and reduced ATP production observed in Lrpprc conditional knockout mouse hearts is caused by an ATP synthase deficiency. Furthermore, the appearance of inactive subassembled ATP synthase complexes causes hyperpolarization and increases mitochondrial reactive oxygen species production. Our findings shed important new light on the bioenergetic consequences of the loss of LRPPRC in cardiac mitochondria.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have been established as important negative post-transcriptional regulators for gene expression. Within the past decade, miRNAs targeting transcription factors (TFs) has emerged as an important mechanism for gene expression regulation. Here, we tested the hypothesis that in TF 3'UTRs, human-specific single nucleotide change(s) that create novel miRNA recognition elements (MREs) contribute to species-specific differences in TF expression. From several potential human-specific TF MREs, one candidate, a member of the Forkhead Box O (FOXO) subclass in the Forkhead family known as Forkhead Box O1 (FOXO1; FKHR; NM_002015) was tested further. Human FOXO1 contains two sites predicted to confer miR-183-mediated post-transcriptional regulation: one specific to humans and the other conserved. Utilizing dual luciferase expression reporters, we show that only the human FOXO1 3'UTR contains a functional miR-183 site, not found in chimpanzee or mouse 3'untranslated regions (UTRs). Site-directed mutagenesis supports functionality of the human-specific miR-183 site, but not the conserved miR-183 site. Via overexpression and target site protection assays, we show that human FOXO1 is regulated by miR-183, but mouse FOXO1 is not. Finally, FOXO1-regulated cellular phenotypes, including cell invasion and proliferation, are impacted by miR-183 targeting only in human cells. These results provide strong evidence for human-specific gain of TF MREs, a process that may underlie evolutionary differences between phylogenic groups.


Although the cause of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is known, the specific factors that initiate and perpetuate disease progression are not well understood. We hypothesized that leaky dystrophin-deficient skeletal muscle releases endogenous danger signals (TLR ligands), which bind to Toll-like receptors (TLRs) on muscle and immune cells and activate downstream processes that facilitate degeneration and regeneration in dystrophic skeletal muscle. Here, we demonstrate that dystrophin-deficient mouse muscle cells show increased expression of several cell-surface and endosomal TLRs. In vitro screening identified ssRNA as a relevant endogenous TLR7 ligand. TLR7 activation led to myd88-dependent production of pro-inflammatory cytokines in dystrophin-deficient muscle cells, and cause significant degeneration/regeneration in vivo in mdx mouse muscle. Also, knockout of the central TLR adaptor protein, myd88 in mdx mice significantly improved skeletal and cardiac muscle function. Likewise, proof-of-concept experiments showed that treating young mdx mice with a TLR7/9 antagonist significantly reduced skeletal muscle inflammation and increased muscle force, suggesting that blocking this pathway may have therapeutic potential for DMD.


A significant proportion (up to 62%) of oral squamous cell carcinomas (OSCCs) may arise from oral potential malignant lesions (OPMLs), such as leukoplakia. Patient outcomes may thus be improved through detection of lesions at a risk for malignant transformation, by identifying and categorizing genetic changes in sequential, progressive OPMLs. We conducted array comparative genomic hybridization analysis of 25 sequential, progressive OPMLs and same-site OSCCs from five patients. Recurrent DNA copy number gains were identified on 1p in 20/25 cases (80%) with minimal, high-level amplification regions on 1p35 and 1p36. Other regions of gains were frequently observed: 11q13.4 (68%), 9q34.13 (64%), 21q22.3 (60%), 6p21 and 6q25 (56%) and 10q24, 19q13.2, 22q12, 5q31.2, 7p13, 10q24 and 14q22 (48%). DNA losses were observed in >20% of samples and mainly detected on 5q31.2 (35%), 16p13.2 (30%), 9q33.1 and 9q33.29 (25%) and 17q11.2, 3p26.2, 18q21.1, 4q34.1 and 8p23.2 (20%). Such copy number alterations (CNAs) were mapped in all grades of dysplasia that progressed, and their corresponding OSCCs, in 70% of patients, indicating that these CNAs may be associated with disease progression. Amplified genes mapping within recurrent CNAs (KHDRBS1, PARP1, RAB1A, HBEGF, PAIP2, BTBD7) were selected for validation, by quantitative real-time PCR, in an independent set of 32 progressive leukoplakia, 32 OSSCs and 21 non-progressive leukoplakia samples. Amplification of BTBD7, KHDRBS1, PARP1 and RAB1A was exclusively detected in progressive leukoplakia and corresponding OSCC. BTBD7, KHDRBS1, PARP1 and RAB1A may be associated with OSCC progression. Protein–protein interaction networks were created to identify possible pathways associated with OSCC progression.


Varied stresses to cells can lead to a repression in translation by triggering phosphorylation of eukaryotic translation initiator factor 2α (eIF2α), which is central to a process known as the integrated stress response (ISR). PKR-like ER-localized eIF2 kinase (PERK), one of the kinases that phosphorylates eIF2α and coordinates the ISR, is activated by stress occurring from the accumulation of misfolded or unfolded proteins in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Mutant Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase (mtSOD1) is thought to cause familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (FALS) because it misfolds and aggregates. Published studies have suggested that ER stress is involved in FALS pathogenesis since mtSOD1 accumulates inside the ER and activates PERK leading to phosphorylated eIF2α (p-eIF2α). We previously used a genetic approach to show that haploinsufficiency of PERK significantly accelerates disease onset and shortens survival of G85R mtSOD1 FALS transgenic mice. We now show that G85R mice that express reduced levels of active GADD34, which normally dephosphorylates p-eIF2α and allows recovery from the global suppression of protein synthesis, markedly ameliorates disease. These studies emphasize the importance of the ISR, and specifically the PERK pathway, in the pathogenesis of mtSOD1-induced FALS and as a target for treatment. Furthermore, the ISR may be an appropriate therapeutic target for sporadic ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases since misfolded proteins have been implicated in these disorders.


Dominant mutations in GARS, encoding the essential enzyme glycyl-tRNA synthetase (GlyRS), result in a form of Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease, type 2D (CMT2D), predominantly characterized by lower motor nerve degeneration. GlyRS charges the amino acid glycine with its cognate tRNA and is therefore essential for protein translation. However, the underlying mechanisms linking toxic gain-of-function GARS mutations to lower motor neuron degeneration remain unidentified. The neuromuscular junction (NMJ) appears to be an early target for pathology in a number of peripheral nerve diseases and becomes denervated at later stages in two mouse models of CMT2D. We therefore performed a detailed longitudinal examination of NMJs in the distal lumbrical muscles and the proximal transversus abdominis (TVA) muscles of wild-type and Gars mutant mice. We determined that mutant lumbrical NMJs display a persistent defect in maturation that precedes a progressive, age-dependent degeneration. Conversely, the TVA remains relatively unaffected, with only a subtle, short-lived impairment in pre- and post-synaptic development and no reduction in lower motor neuron connectivity to muscle. Together, these observations suggest that mutant Gars is associated with compromised development of the NMJ prior to synaptic degeneration and highlight the neuromuscular synapse as an important site of early, selective pathology in CMT2D mice.


Mutations of the thyroid hormone receptor α gene (THRA) cause hypothyroidism in patients with growth and developmental retardation, and skeletal dysplasia. Genetic evidence indicates that the dominant negative activity of TRα1 mutants underlies pathological manifestations. Using a mouse model of hypothyroidism caused by a dominant negative TRα1PV mutant and its derived mouse model harboring a mutated nuclear receptor corepressor (NCOR1ID) (Thra1PV/+Ncor1ID/ID mice), we recently showed that aberrant release of TRα1 mutants from the NCOR1 repressor complex mediates dominant negative actions of TRα1 mutants in vivo. We tested the hypothesis that deacetylation of nucleosomal histones associated with aberrant recruitment of corepressors by TRα1 mutants underlies pathological phenotypic expression. We treated Thra1PV/+and Thra1PV/+Ncor1ID/ID mice with a histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor, suberoylanilide hydroxyamic acid (SAHA). SAHA significantly ameliorated the impaired growth, bone development and adipogenesis of Thra1PV/+ mice. In Thra1PV/+Ncor1ID/ID mice, SAHA improved these abnormalities even further. We focused our molecular analyses on how SAHA improved the impaired adipogenesis leading to the lean phenotype. We found that SAHA reverted the impaired adipogenesis by de-repressing the expression of the two master regulators of adipogenesis, C/ebpα and Ppar, as well as other adipogenic genes at both the mRNA and protein levels. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analyses indicated SAHA increased the extent of acetylation of nucleosomal H4K5 and H3 to re-activate adipogenic genes to reverting adipogenesis. Thus, HDAC confers in vivo aberrant actions of TRα1 mutants. Importantly, for the first time, the present studies show that HDAC inhibitors are clearly beneficial for hypothyroidism and could be therapeutics for treatment.


Exome sequencing indicated that the gene encoding the calpain-5 protease, CAPN5, is the likely cause of retinal degeneration and autoimmune uveitis in human patients with autosomal dominant neovascular inflammatory vitreoretinopathy (ADNIV, OMIM #193235). To explore the mechanism of ADNIV, a human CAPN5 disease allele was expressed in mouse retinas with a lentiviral vector created to express either the wild-type human (h) CAPN5 or the ADNIV mutant hCAPN5-R243L allele under a rhodopsin promoter with tandem green fluorescent protein (GFP) expression. Vectors were injected into the subretinal space of perinatal mice. Mouse phenotypes were analyzed using electroretinography, histology and inflammatory gene expression profiling. Mouse calpain-5 showed high homology to its human ortholog with >98% sequence identity that includes the ADNIV mutant residue. Calpain-5 protein was expressed in the inner and outer segments of the photoreceptors and in the outer plexiform layer. Expression of the hCAPN5-R243L allele caused loss of the electroretinogram b-wave, photoreceptor degeneration and induction of immune cell infiltration and inflammatory genes in the retina, recapitulating major features of the ADNIV phenotype. Intraocular neovascularization and fibrosis were not observed during the study period. Our study shows that expression of the hCAPN5-R243L disease allele elicits an ADNIV-like disease in mice. It further suggests that ADNIV is due to CAPN5 gain-of-function rather than haploinsufficiency, and retinal expression may be sufficient to generate an autoimmune response. Genetic models of ADNIV in the mouse can be used to explore protease mechanisms in retinal degeneration and inflammation as well as preclinical therapeutic testing.


Mutations in TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43) are associated with familial forms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal lobar degeneration. Although recent studies have revealed that mutant TDP-43 in neuronal and glial cells is toxic, how mutant TDP-43 causes primarily neuronal degeneration in an age-dependent manner remains unclear. Using adeno-associated virus (AAV) that expresses mutant TDP-43 (M337V) ubiquitously, we found that mutant TDP-43 accumulates preferentially in neuronal cells in the postnatal mouse brain. We then ubiquitously or selectively expressed mutant TDP-43 in neuronal and glial cells in the striatum of adult mouse brains via stereotaxic injection of AAV vectors and found that it also preferentially accumulates in neuronal cells. Expression of mutant TDP-43 in neurons in the striatum causes more severe degeneration, earlier death and more robust symptoms in mice than expression of mutant TDP-43 in glial cells; however, aging increases the expression of mutant TDP-43 in glial cells, and expression of mutant TDP-43 in older mice caused earlier onset of phenotypes and more severe neuropathology than that in younger mice. Although expression of mutant TDP-43 in glial cells via stereotaxic injection does not lead to robust neurological phenotypes, systemic inhibition of the proteasome activity via MG132 in postnatal mice could exacerbate glial TDP-43-mediated toxicity and cause mice to die earlier. Consistently, this inhibition increases the expression of mutant TDP-43 in glial cells in mouse brains. Thus, the differential accumulation of mutant TDP-43 in neuronal versus glial cells contributes to the preferential toxicity of mutant TDP-43 in neuronal cells and age-dependent pathology.


A newly identified lethal form of hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy (HSAN), designated HSAN-VI, is caused by a homozygous mutation in the bullous pemphigoid antigen 1 (BPAG1)/dystonin gene (DST). The HSAN-VI mutation impacts all major neuronal BPAG1/dystonin protein isoforms: dystonin-a1, -a2 and -a3. Homozygous mutations in the murine Dst gene cause a severe sensory neuropathy termed dystonia musculorum (dt). Phenotypically, dt mice are similar to HSAN-VI patients, manifesting progressive limb contractures, dystonia, dysautonomia and early postnatal death. To obtain a better molecular understanding of disease pathogenesis in HSAN-VI patients and the dt disorder, we generated transgenic mice expressing a myc-tagged dystonin-a2 protein under the regulation of the neuronal prion protein promoter on the dtTg4/Tg4 background, which is devoid of endogenous dystonin-a1 and -a2, but does express dystonin-a3. Restoring dystonin-a2 expression in the nervous system, particularly within sensory neurons, prevented the disorganization of organelle membranes and microtubule networks, attenuated the degeneration of sensory neuron subtypes and ameliorated the phenotype and increased life span in these mice. Despite these improvements, complete rescue was not observed likely because of inadequate expression of the transgene. Taken together, this study provides needed insight into the molecular basis of the dt disorder and other peripheral neuropathies including HSAN-VI.


DNA variation in Interferon Regulatory Factor 6 (IRF6) causes Van der Woude syndrome (VWS), the most common syndromic form of cleft lip and palate (CLP). However, an etiologic variant in IRF6 has been found in only 70% of VWS families. To test whether DNA variants in regulatory elements cause VWS, we sequenced three conserved elements near IRF6 in 70 VWS families that lack an etiologic mutation within IRF6 exons. A rare mutation (350dupA) was found in a conserved IRF6 enhancer element (MCS9.7) in a Brazilian family. The 350dupA mutation abrogated the binding of p63 and E47 transcription factors to cis-overlapping motifs, and significantly disrupted enhancer activity in human cell cultures. Moreover, using a transgenic assay in mice, the 350dupA mutation disrupted the activation of MCS9.7 enhancer element and led to failure of lacZ expression in all head and neck pharyngeal arches. Interestingly, disruption of the p63 Motif1 and/or E47 binding sites by nucleotide substitution did not fully recapitulate the effect of the 350dupA mutation. Rather, we recognized that the 350dupA created a CAAAGT motif, a binding site for Lef1 protein. We showed that Lef1 binds to the mutated site and that overexpression of Lef1/β-Catenin chimeric protein repressed MCS9.7-350dupA enhancer activity. In conclusion, our data strongly suggest that 350dupA variant is an etiologic mutation in VWS patients and disrupts enhancer activity by a loss- and gain-of-function mechanism, and thus support the rationale for additional screening for regulatory mutations in patients with CLP.


Seasonal patterns in behavior and biological parameters are widespread. Here, we examined seasonal changes in whole blood gene expression profiles of 233 healthy subjects. Using weighted gene co-expression network analysis, we identified three co-expression modules showing circannual patterns. Enrichment analysis suggested that this signal stems primarily from red blood cells and blood platelets. Indeed, a large clinical database with 51 142 observations of blood cell counts over 3 years confirmed a corresponding seasonal pattern of counts of red blood cells, reticulocytes and platelets. We found no direct evidence that these changes are linked to genes known to be key players in regulating immune function or circadian rhythm. It is likely, however, that these seasonal changes in cell counts and gene expression profiles in whole blood represent biological and clinical relevant phenomena. Moreover, our findings highlight possible confounding factors relevant to the study of gene expression profiles in subjects collected at geographical locations with disparaging seasonality patterns.


We previously demonstrated that the Alzheimer's disease (AD) associated risk allele, rs3865444C, results in a higher surface density of CD33 on monocytes. Here, we find alternative splicing of exon 2 to be the primary mechanism of the genetically driven differential expression of CD33 protein. We report that the risk allele, rs3865444C, is associated with greater cell surface expression of CD33 in both subjects of European and African–American ancestry and that there is a single haplotype influencing CD33 surface expression. A meta-analysis of the two populations narrowed the number of significant SNPs in high linkage disequilibrium (LD) (r2 > 0.8) with rs3865444 to just five putative causal variants associated with increased protein expression. Using gene expression data from flow-sorted CD14+CD16 monocytes from 398 healthy subjects of three populations, we show that the rs3865444C risk allele is strongly associated with greater expression of CD33 exon 2 (pMETA = 2.36 x 10–60). Western blotting confirms increased protein expression of the full-length CD33 isoform containing exon 2 relative to the rs3865444C allele (P < 0.0001). Of the variants in strong LD with rs3865444, rs12459419, which is located in a putative SRSF2 splice site of exon 2, is the most likely candidate to mediate the altered alternative splicing of CD33's Immunoglobulin V-set domain 2 and ultimately influence AD susceptibility.


Huntington's disease (HD) is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder caused by abnormal expansion of glutamine repeats in the protein huntingtin. In HD brain, mutant huntingtin undergoes proteolytic processing, and its N-terminal fragment containing poly-glutamine repeats accumulate as insoluble aggregates leading to the defect in cellular protein quality control system and heat shock response (HSR). Here we demonstrate that the defective HSR in the brain is due to the down-regulation of heat shock factor 1 (HSF1) in both mice and fly models of HD. Interestingly, treatment of dexamethasone (a synthetic glucocorticoid) to HD mice or flies significantly increased the expression and transactivation of HSF1 and induction of HSR and these effects are mediated through the down-regulation of HSP90. Dexamethasone treatment also significantly decreased the aggregate load and transient recovery of HD-related behavioural phenotypes in both disease models. These results suggest that dexamethasone could be a potential therapeutic molecule for the treatment of HD and related poly-glutamine disorders.


Rare copy number variants (CNVs) disrupting ASTN2 or both ASTN2 and TRIM32 have been reported at 9q33.1 by genome-wide studies in a few individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). The vertebrate-specific astrotactins, ASTN2 and its paralog ASTN1, have key roles in glial-guided neuronal migration during brain development. To determine the prevalence of astrotactin mutations and delineate their associated phenotypic spectrum, we screened ASTN2/TRIM32 and ASTN1 (1q25.2) for exonic CNVs in clinical microarray data from 89 985 individuals across 10 sites, including 64 114 NDD subjects. In this clinical dataset, we identified 46 deletions and 12 duplications affecting ASTN2. Deletions of ASTN1 were much rarer. Deletions near the 3' terminus of ASTN2, which would disrupt all transcript isoforms (a subset of these deletions also included TRIM32), were significantly enriched in the NDD subjects (P = 0.002) compared with 44 085 population-based controls. Frequent phenotypes observed in individuals with such deletions include autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), speech delay, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The 3'-terminal ASTN2 deletions were significantly enriched compared with controls in males with NDDs, but not in females. Upon quantifying ASTN2 human brain RNA, we observed shorter isoforms expressed from an alternative transcription start site of recent evolutionary origin near the 3' end. Spatiotemporal expression profiling in the human brain revealed consistently high ASTN1 expression while ASTN2 expression peaked in the early embryonic neocortex and postnatal cerebellar cortex. Our findings shed new light on the role of the astrotactins in psychopathology and their interplay in human neurodevelopment.


How epithelial cells form a tubule with defined length and lumen diameter remains a fundamental question in cell and developmental biology. Loss of control of tubule lumen size in multiple organs including the kidney, liver and pancreas features polycystic kidney disease (PKD). To gain insights into autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease, we performed yeast two-hybrid screens using the C-terminus of polycystin-1 (PC1) as bait. Here, we report that PC1 interacts with Pacsin 2, a cytoplasmic phosphoprotein that has been implicated in cytoskeletal organization, vesicle trafficking and more recently in cell intercalation during gastrulation. PC1 binds to a 107-residue fragment containing the α3 helix of the F-BAR domain of Pacsin 2 via a coiled-coil domain in its C-tail. PC1 and Pacsin 2 co-localize on the lamellipodia of migrating kidney epithelial cells. PC1 and Pacsin 2-deficient kidney epithelial cells migrate at a slower speed with reduced directional persistency. We further demonstrate that PC1, Pacsin 2 and N-Wasp are in the same protein complex, and both PC1 and Pacsin 2 are required for N-Wasp/Arp2/3-dependent actin remodeling. We propose that PC1 modulates actin cytoskeleton rearrangements and directional cell migration through the Pacsin 2/N-Wasp/Arp2/3 complex, which consequently contributes to the establishment and maintenance of the sophisticated tubular architecture. Disruption of this complex contributes to cyst formation in PKD.


Although Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS) have identified many susceptibility loci for common diseases, they only explain a small portion of heritability. It is challenging to identify the remaining disease loci because their association signals are likely weak and difficult to identify among millions of candidates. One potentially useful direction to increase statistical power is to incorporate functional genomics information, especially gene expression networks, to prioritize GWAS signals. Most current methods utilizing network information to prioritize disease genes are based on the ‘guilt by association’ principle, in which networks are treated as static, and disease-associated genes are assumed to locate closer with each other than random pairs in the network. In contrast, we propose a novel ‘guilt by rewiring’ principle. Studying the dynamics of gene networks between controls and patients, this principle assumes that disease genes more likely undergo rewiring in patients, whereas most of the network remains unaffected in disease condition. To demonstrate this principle, we consider the changes of co-expression networks in Crohn's disease patients and controls, and how network dynamics reveals information on disease associations. Our results demonstrate that network rewiring is abundant in the immune system, and disease-associated genes are more likely to be rewired in patients. To integrate this network rewiring feature and GWAS signals, we propose to use the Markov random field framework to integrate network information to prioritize genes. Applications in Crohn's disease and Parkinson's disease show that this framework leads to more replicable results, and implicates potentially disease-associated pathways.