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Quality Improvement (QI) in Evaluation: Ask Why Again and Again and Again

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 3:32pm

Blog post to AEA365, a blog sponsored by the American Evaluation Association (AEA) dedicated to highlighting Hot Tips, Cool Tricks, Rad Resources, and Lessons Learned for evaluators. The American Evaluation Association is an international professional association of evaluators devoted to the application and exploration of program evaluation, personnel evaluation, technology, and many other forms of evaluation. Evaluation involves assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programs, policies, personnel, products, and organizations to improve their effectiveness.

Making Your Webinar Accessible

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 11:18am

Blog post to AEA365, a blog sponsored by the American Evaluation Association (AEA) dedicated to highlighting Hot Tips, Cool Tricks, Rad Resources, and Lessons Learned for evaluators. The American Evaluation Association is an international professional association of evaluators devoted to the application and exploration of program evaluation, personnel evaluation, technology, and many other forms of evaluation. Evaluation involves assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programs, policies, personnel, products, and organizations to improve their effectiveness.

In the proper context: Neuropeptide regulation of behavioral transitions during food searching

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 9:57am

Neuromodulation enables transient restructuring of anatomically fixed neural circuits, generating alternate outputs and distinct states that allow for flexible organismal responses to changing conditions. We recently identified a requirement for the neuropeptide-like protein NLP-12, a Caenorhabditis elegans homolog of mammalian Cholecystokinin (CCK), in the control of behavioral responses to altered food availability. We showed that deletion of nlp-12 impairs turning during local food searching while nlp-12 overexpression is sufficient to induce deep body bends and enhance turning. nlp-12 is solely expressed in the DVA interneuron that is located postsynaptic to the dopaminergic PDE neurons and presynaptic to premotor and motor neurons, well-positioned for modulating sensorimotor tasks. Interestingly, DVA was previously implicated in a NLP-12 mediated proprioceptive feedback loop during C. elegans locomotion. Here, we discuss the modulatory effects of NLP-12 with an emphasis on the potential for circuit level integration with olfactory information about food availability. In addition, we propose potential mechanisms by which DVA may integrate distinct forms of sensory information to regulate NLP-12 signaling and mediate context-dependent modulation of the motor circuit.

The Genetic Basis of Natural Variation in Caenorhabditis elegans Telomere Length

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 9:57am

Telomeres are involved in the maintenance of chromosomes and the prevention of genome instability. Despite this central importance, significant variation in telomere length has been observed in a variety of organisms. The genetic determinants of telomere-length variation and their effects on organismal fitness are largely unexplored. Here, we describe natural variation in telomere length across the Caenorhabditis elegans species. We identify a large-effect variant that contributes to differences in telomere length. The variant alters the conserved oligonucleotide/oligosaccharide-binding fold of protection of telomeres 2 (POT-2), a homolog of a human telomere-capping shelterin complex subunit. Mutations within this domain likely reduce the ability of POT-2 to bind telomeric DNA, thereby increasing telomere length. We find that telomere-length variation does not correlate with offspring production or longevity in C. elegans wild isolates, suggesting that naturally long telomeres play a limited role in modifying fitness phenotypes in C. elegans.

Improving Care for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 8:57am

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Care for neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a postnatal drug withdrawal syndrome, remains variable. We designed and implemented a multicenter quality improvement collaborative for infants with NAS. Our objective was to determine if the collaborative was effective in standardizing hospital policies and improving patient outcomes.

METHODS: From 2012 to 2014, data were collected through serial cross-sectional audits of participating centers. Hospitals assessed institutional policies and patient-level data for infants with NAS requiring pharmacotherapy, including length of pharmacologic treatment and length of hospital stay (LOS). Models were fit, clustered according to hospital, to evaluate changes in patient outcomes over time.

RESULTS: Among 199 participating centers, the mean number of NAS-focused guidelines increased from 3.7 to 5.1 of a possible 6 (P < .001), with improvements noted in all measured domains. Among infants cared for at participating centers, decreases occurred in median (interquartile range) length of pharmacologic treatment, from 16 days (10 to 27 days) to 15 days (10 to 24 days; P = .02), and LOS from 21 days (14 to 33 days) to 19 days (15 to 28 days; P = .002). In addition, there was a statistically significant decrease in the proportion of infants discharged on medication for NAS, from 39.7% to 26.5% (P = .02). After adjusting for potential confounders, standardized NAS scoring process was associated with shorter LOS (-3.3 days,95% confidence interval, -4.9 to -1.4).

CONCLUSIONS: Involvement in a multicenter, multistate quality improvement collaborative focused on infants requiring pharmacologic treatment for NAS was associated with increases in standardizing hospital patient care policies and decreases in health care utilization.

The phenotypic spectrum of Schaaf-Yang syndrome: 18 new affected individuals from 14 families

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 8:56am

PURPOSE: Truncating mutations in the maternally imprinted, paternally expressed gene MAGEL2, which is located in the Prader-Willi critical region 15q11-13, have recently been reported to cause Schaaf-Yang syndrome, a Prader-Willi-like disease that manifests as developmental delay/intellectual disability, hypotonia, feeding difficulties, and autism spectrum disorder. The causality of the reported variants in the context of the patients' phenotypes was questioned, as MAGEL2 whole-gene deletions seem to cause little or no clinical phenotype.

METHODS: Here we report a total of 18 newly identified individuals with Schaaf-Yang syndrome from 14 families, including 1 family with 3 individuals found to be affected with a truncating variant of MAGEL2, 11 individuals who are clinically affected but were not tested molecularly, and a presymptomatic fetal sibling carrying the pathogenic MAGEL2 variant.

RESULTS: All cases harbor truncating mutations of MAGEL2, and nucleotides c.1990-1996 arise as a mutational hotspot, with 10 individuals and 1 fetus harboring a c.1996dupC (p.Q666fs) mutation and 2 fetuses harboring a c.1996delC (p.Q666fs) mutation. The phenotypic spectrum of Schaaf-Yang syndrome ranges from fetal akinesia to neurobehavioral disease and contractures of the small finger joints.

CONCLUSION: This study provides strong evidence for the pathogenicity of truncating mutations of the paternal allele of MAGEL2, refines the associated clinical phenotypes, and highlights implications for genetic counseling for affected families.

Sleep Disorders Associated With Traumatic Brain Injury-A Review

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 8:56am

BACKGROUND: Sleep disorders are common are common following traumatic brain injury.

METHODS: In this article we review the spectrum and proposed mechanisms of traumatic brain injury associated sleep disorders and discuss the clinical approach to diagnosis and management of these disorders.

RESULT: Disordered sleep and wakefulness after traumatic brain injury is common. Sleep disruption contributes to morbidity, such as the development of neurocognitive and neurobehavioral deficits, and prolongs the recovery phase after injury. Early recognition and correction of these problems may limit the secondary effects of traumatic brain injury and improve patient outcomes.

CONCLUSION: Evaluating sleep disorders in traumatic brain injury should be an important component of post-traumatic brain injury assessment and management.

American Society of Pediatric Nephrology Position Paper: Standard Resources Required for a Pediatric Nephrology Practice

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 8:56am

This document aims to describe the essential resources needed for all pediatric nephrology divisions, regardless of the number of pediatric nephrologists in the division. The recommendations in this position paper are the work of authors representing the American Society of Pediatric Nephrology (ASPN) and are endorsed by the ASPN Council.

De novo mutations in PURA are associated with hypotonia and developmental delay

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 8:56am

PURA is the leading candidate gene responsible for the developmental phenotype in the 5q31.3 microdeletion syndrome. De novo mutations in PURA were recently reported in 15 individuals with developmental features similar to the 5q31.3 microdeletion syndrome. Here we describe six unrelated children who were identified by clinical whole-exome sequencing (WES) to have novel de novo variants in PURA with a similar phenotype of hypotonia and developmental delay and frequently associated with seizures. The protein Puralpha (encoded by PURA) is involved in neuronal proliferation, dendrite maturation, and the transport of mRNA to translation sites during neuronal development. Mutations in PURA may alter normal brain development and impair neuronal function, leading to developmental delay and the seizures observed in patients with mutations in PURA.

Mild Microcytic Anemia in an Infant with a Compound Heterozygosity for Hb C (HBB: c.19G > A) and Hb Osu Christiansborg (HBB: c.157G > A)

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 8:56am

We report an infant with a compound heterozygosity for Hb C (HBB: c.19G > A) and Hb Osu Christiansborg (HBB: c.157G > A) and a phenotype of mild microcytic anemia with target cell morphology but without overt hemolysis.

Self-Complementary Adeno-Associated Virus Vectors Improve Transduction Efficiency of Corneal Endothelial Cells

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 8:56am

Transplantation of a donor cornea to restore vision is the most frequently performed transplantation in the world. Corneal endothelial cells (CEC) are crucial for the outcome of a graft as they maintain corneal transparency and avoid graft failure due to corneal opaqueness. Given the characteristic of being a monolayer and in direct contact with culture medium during cultivation in eye banks, CEC are specifically suitable for gene therapeutic approaches prior to transplantation. Recombinant adeno-associated virus 2 (rAAV2) vectors represent a promising tool for gene therapy of CEC. However, high vector titers are needed to achieve sufficient gene expression. One of the rate-limiting steps for transgene expression is the conversion of single-stranded (ss-) DNA vector genome into double-stranded (ds-) DNA. This step can be bypassed by using self-complementary (sc-) AAV2 vectors. Aim of this study was to compare for the first time transduction efficiencies of ss- and scAAV2 vectors in CEC. For this purpose AAV2 vectors containing enhanced green fluorescent protein (GFP) as transgene were used. Both in CEC and in donor corneas, transduction with scAAV2 resulted in significantly higher transgene expression compared to ssAAV2. The difference in transduction efficiency decreased with increasing vector titer. In most cases, only half the vector titer of scAAV2 was required for equal or higher gene expression rates than those of ssAAV2. In human donor corneas, GFP expression was 64.7+/-11.3% (scAAV) and 38.0+/-8.6% (ssAAV) (p < 0.001), respectively. Furthermore, transduced cells maintained their viability and showed regular morphology. Working together with regulatory authorities, a translation of AAV2 vector-mediated gene therapy to achieve a temporary protection of corneal allografts during cultivation and transplantation could therefore become more realistic.

Frontline Science: Splenic progenitors aid in maintaining high neutrophil numbers at sites of sterile chronic inflammation

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 8:56am

Neutrophils are constantly generated from hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells in the bone marrow to maintain high numbers in circulation. A considerable number of neutrophils and their progenitors have been shown to be present in the spleen too; however, their exact role in this organ remains unclear. Herein, we sought to study the function of splenic neutrophils and their progenitors using a mouse model for sterile, peritoneal inflammation. In this microcapsule device implantation model, we show chronic neutrophil presence at implant sites, with recruitment from circulation as the primary mechanism for their prevalence in the peritoneal exudate. Furthermore, we demonstrate that progenitor populations in the spleen play a key role in maintaining elevated neutrophil numbers. Our results provide new insight into the role for splenic neutrophils and their progenitors and establish a model to study neutrophil function during sterile inflammation.

Needles in Hay II: Detecting Cardiac Pathology by the Pediatric Chest Pain Standardized Clinical Assessment and Management Plan

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 8:56am

OBJECTIVES: To determine if patients evaluated using the pediatric chest pain standardized clinical assessment and management plan (SCAMP) in cardiology clinic were later diagnosed with unrecognized cardiac pathology, and to determine if other patients with cardiac pathology not enrolled in the SCAMP would have been identified using the algorithm.

STUDY DESIGN: Patients 7-21 years of age, newly diagnosed with hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy, coronary anomalies, pulmonary embolus, pulmonary hypertension, pericarditis, or myocarditis were identified from the Boston Children's Hospital (BCH) cardiac database between July 1, 2010 and December 31, 2012. Patients were cross-referenced to the SCAMP database or retrospectively assessed with the SCAMP algorithm.

RESULTS: Among 98 patients with cardiac pathology, 34 (35%) reported chest pain, of whom 10 were diagnosed as outpatients. None of these patients were enrolled in the SCAMP because of alternate chief complaints (n = 4) or referral to BCH for management of the new diagnosis (n = 6). Each of these patients would have had an echocardiogram recommended by retrospective application of the SCAMP algorithm. Two other patients with cardiac pathology were among the 1124 patients assessed by the SCAMP. One patient initially diagnosed with noncardiac chest pain presented 18 months later and was diagnosed with myocarditis as an inpatient. One patient seen initially in the emergency department was subsequently diagnosed with pericarditis as an outpatient.

CONCLUSIONS: Patients assessed by the chest pain SCAMP at BCH were not later diagnosed with cardiac pathology that was missed at the initial encounter. Nonenrolled outpatients with cardiac pathology and chest pain would have been successfully identified with the SCAMP algorithm.

Development of rAAV2-CFTR: History of the First rAAV Vector Product to be Used in Humans

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 8:56am

The first human gene therapy trials using recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) vectors were performed in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Over 100 CF patients were enrolled in 5 separate trials of rAAV2-CFTR administration via nasal, endobronchial, maxillary sinus, and aerosol delivery. Recombinant AAV vectors were designed to deliver the CF transmembrane regulator (CFTR) gene and correct the basic CFTR defect by restoring chloride transport and reverting the upregulation of proinflammatory cytokines. However, vector DNA expression was limited in duration because of the low incidence of integration and natural airway epithelium turnover. In addition, repeated administration of AAV-CFTR vector resulted in a humoral immune response that prevented effective gene transfer from subsequent doses of vector. AAV serotype 2 was used in human trials before the comparison with other serotypes and determination that serotypes 1 and 5 not only possess higher tropism for the airway epithelium, but also are capable of bypassing the binding and trafficking processes-both were important hindrances to the effectiveness of rAAV2. Although rAAV-CFTR gene therapy does not appear likely to supplant newer small-molecule CFTR modulators in the near future, early work with rAAV-CFTR provided an important foundation for later use of rAAV in humans.

Identification and Characterization of MicroRNA Modulators in Caenorhabditis Elegans: A Dissertation

Tue, 11/15/2016 - 8:45pm

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are endogenous non-coding small RNAs that posttranscriptionally regulate gene expression primarily through binding to the 3’ untranslated region (3’UTR) of target mRNAs, and are known to play important roles in various developmental and physiological processes. The work presented in this thesis was centered on understanding how Caenorhabditis elegans miRNAs are modulated by genetic, environmental, or physiological factors and how these small RNAs function to maintain the robustness of developmental processes under stressful conditions.

To identify modulators of the miRNA pathway, I developed sensitized genetic backgrounds that consist of a panel of miRNA gene mutants and miRNA biogenesis factor mutants with partially penetrant phenotypes. First, I found that upon infection of Caenorhabditis elegans with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an opportunistic pathogen of diverse plants and animals, let-7 family miRNAs are engaged in reciprocal regulatory interactions with the p38 MAPK innate immune pathway to maintain robust developmental timing despite the stress of pathogen infection. These let-7 family miRNAs, along with other developmental timing regulators, are also integrated into innate immune regulatory networks to modulate immune responses. Next, I demonstrated that loss-of-function mutations of Staufen (stau-1), a double-stranded RNA-binding protein, increase miRNA activity for several miRNA families, and this negative modulation of Staufen on miRNA activity acts downstream of miRNA biogenesis, possibly by competing with miRNAs for binding to target mRNA 3’UTRs.

In summary, these studies provide a better understanding on how miRNAs are modulated by various environmental and cellular components, and further support the role of the miRNA pathway in conferring robustness to developmental processes under these perturbations.

Small RNA Regulation of the Innate Immune Response: A Role for Dicer in the Control of Viral Production and Sensing of Nucleic Acids: A Dissertation

Tue, 11/15/2016 - 8:45pm

All organisms exist in some sort of symbiosis with their environment. The food we eat, air we breathe, and things we touch all have their own microbiota and we interact with these microbiota on a daily basis. As such, we employ a method of compartmentalization in order to keep foreign entities outside of the protected internal environments of the body. However, as other organisms seek to replicate themselves, they may invade our sterile compartments in order to do so. To protect ourselves from unfettered replication of pathogens or from cellular damage, we have developed a series of receptors and signaling pathways that detect foreign bodies as well as abnormal signals from our own perturbed cells. The downstream effector molecules that these signaling pathways initiate can be toxic and damaging to both pathogen and host, so special care is given to the regulation of these systems. One method of regulation is the production of endogenous small ribonucleic acids that can regulate the expression of various receptors and adaptors in the immune signaling pathways. In this dissertation, I present work that establishes an important protein in small ribonucleic acid regulation, Dicer, as an essential protein for regulating the innate immune response to immuno-stimulatory nucleic acids as well as regulating the productive infection of encephalomyocarditis virus. Depleting Dicer from murine embryonic fibroblasts renders a disparate type I interferon response where nucleic acid stimulation in the Dicer null cells fails to produce an appreciable interferon response while infection with the paramyxovirus, Sendai, induces a more robust interferon response than the wild-type control. Additionally, I show that Dicer plays a vital role in controlling infection by the picornavirus, encephalomyocarditis virus. Encephalomyocarditis virus fails to grow efficiently in Dicer null cells due to the inability for the virus to bind to the outside of the cell, suggesting that Dicer has a role in modulating viral infection by affecting host cellular protein levels. Together, this work identifies Dicer as a key protein in viral innate immunology by regulating both the growth of virus and also the immune response generated by exposure to pathogen associated molecular patterns. Understanding this regulation will be vital for future development of small molecule therapeutics that can either modulate the innate immune response or directly affect viral growth.

Computational Approaches for the Analysis of Chromosome Conformation Capture Data and Their Application to Study Long-Range Gene Regulation: A Dissertation

Tue, 11/15/2016 - 8:45pm

Over the last decade, development and application of a set of molecular genomic approaches based on the chromosome conformation capture method (3C), combined with increasingly powerful imaging approaches have enabled high resolution and genome-wide analysis of the spatial organization of chromosomes. The aim of this thesis is two-fold; 1), to provide guidelines for analyzing and interpreting data obtained from genome-wide 3C methods such as Hi-C and 3C-seq and 2), to leverage the 3C technology to solve genome function, structure, assembly, development and dosage problems across a broad range of organisms and disease models.

First, through the introduction of cWorld, a toolkit for manipulating genome structure data, I accelerate the pace at which *C experiments can be performed, analyzed and biological insights inferred. Next I discuss a set of practical guidelines one should consider while planning an experiment to study the structure of the genome, a simple workflow for data processing unique to *C data and a set of considerations one should be aware of while attempting to gain insights from the data.

Next, I apply these guidelines and leverage the cWorld toolkit in the context of two dosage compensation systems. The first is a worm condensin mutant which shows a reduction in dosage compensation in the hermaphrodite X chromosomes. The second is an allele-specific study consisting of genome wide Hi-C, RNA-Seq and ATAC-Seq which can measure the state of the active (Xa) and inactive (Xi) X chromosome. Finally I turn to studying specific gene – enhancer looping interactions across a panel of ENCODE cell-lines.

These studies, when taken together, further our understanding of how genome structure relates to genome function.

Investigating the Architecture and Vesicle Tethering Function of the Yeast Exocyst Complex: A Dissertation

Tue, 11/15/2016 - 8:45pm

The exocyst is an evolutionarily conserved, hetero-octameric protein complex proposed to serve as a multi-subunit tethering complex for exocytosis, although it remains poorly understood at the molecular level. The classification of the exocyst as a multisubunit tethering complex (MTC) stems from its known interacting partners, polarized localization at the plasma membrane, and structural homology to other putative MTCs. The presence of 8 subunits begs the questions: why are so many subunits required for vesicle tethering and what are the contributions of each of these subunits to the overall structure of the complex? Additionally, are subunit or subcomplex dynamics a required feature of exocyst function? We purified endogenous exocyst complexes from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and showed that the purified complexes are stable and consist of all eight subunits with equal stoichiometry. This conclusion contrasts starkly with current models suggesting that the yeast exocyst tethers vesicles by transient assembly of subcomplexes at sites of exocytosis. Using a combination of biochemical and auxininduced degradation experiments in yeast, we mapped the subunit connectivity, identified two stable four-subunit modules within the octamer, and demonstrated that several known exocyst binding partners are not necessary for exocyst assembly and stability. Furthermore, we visualized the structure of the yeast complex using negative stain electron microscopy; our results indicate that exocyst exists predominantly as an octameric complex in yeast with a stably assembled, elongated structure. This is the first complete structure of a CATCHR family MTC and it differs greatly from the EM structures available for the partial COG and Dsl1 complexes. Future work will be necessary to determine whether exocyst conformational changes are a required feature of vesicle tethering and how such changes are regulated.

These architectural insights are now informing the design of the first in vitro functional assay for the exocyst complex. We developed methodology for attaching fluorescently-labeled exocyst complexes to glass slides and monitoring the capture of purified, endogenous secretory vesicles by single molecule TIRF microscopy. By this approach, we can monitor tethering events in real time and determine the required factors and kinetics of exocytic vesicle tethering.