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Memory CD8+ T Cell Function during Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Infection: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 4:36pm

T cell vaccines against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) and other pathogens are based on the principle that memory T cells rapidly generate effector responses upon challenge, leading to pathogen clearance. Despite eliciting a robust memory CD8+ T cell response to the immunodominant Mtb antigen TB10.4 (EsxH), we find the increased frequency of TB10.4-specific CD8+ T cells conferred by vaccination to be short-lived after Mtb challenge. To compare memory and naïve CD8+ T cell function during their response to Mtb, we track their expansions using TB10.4-specific retrogenic CD8+ T cells. We find that the primary (naïve) response outnumbers the secondary (memory) response during Mtb challenge, an effect moderated by increased TCR affinity. To determine whether the expansion of polyclonal memory T cells is restrained following Mtb challenge, we used TCRb deep sequencing to track TB10.4-specific CD8+ T cells after vaccination and subsequent challenge in intact mice. Successful memory T cells, defined by their clonal expansion after Mtb challenge, express similar CDR3b sequences suggesting TCR selection by antigen. Thus, both TCR-dependent and independent factors affect the fitness of memory CD8+ responses. The impaired expansion of the majority of memory T cell clonotypes may explain why some TB vaccines have not provided better protection.

Tissue Compartmentalization and Tropism of HIV-1: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 4:36pm

Despite the development of effective antiretroviral treatments, there is still no cure for HIV-1. Major barriers to HIV-1 eradication include the diversity of intrapatient viral quasispecies and the establishment of reservoirs in tissue sanctuary sites. A better understanding of these populations is required for targeted treatments. While previous studies have examined the relationship between brain and blood or immune tissues, few have looked at and compared the properties of viruses from other tissue compartments. In this study, 75 full length HIV-1 envelopes were isolated from the frontal lobe, occipital lobe, parietal lobe, colon, lung, and lymph node of an HIV-1 infected subject. No envelopes could be amplified from the plasma or serum. Envelopes were subjected to genotypic and phenotypic characterization. Of the 75 envelopes, 53 were able to infect HeLa TZM-bl cells. The greatest proportion of non-functional envelopes was from the lung, a result of APOBEC-induced hypermutation. Lower frequencies of hypermutation were also observed in the occipital lobe and colon. Envelopes from regions of the brain were almost all macrophage tropic, while those from the body were predominantly non-macrophage tropic. All envelopes used CCR5 as a coreceptor. Phylogenetic analyses showed that sequences were compartmentalized inside the brain. These findings were also observed using PacBio next generation sequencing to examine 32,152 full length sequences. Envelopes from tissues of the body displayed greater variation in sequence length, charge, and number of potential N-linked glycosylation sites in comparison to envelopes from tissues of the brain. Increased variation was also observed in IC50s for inhibition and neutralization assays using sCD4, maraviroc, b12, PG16, 17b, and 447-52D. The increased variation observed in envelopes from tissues outside the brain suggests that different pressures may be influencing the evolution of these viruses and emphasizes the importance of further studies in these tissue sites.

The Role of Late Antigen in CD4 Memory T Cell Formation during Influena [i.e. Influenza] Infection: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 4:36pm

While memory CD4 T cells are critical for effective immunity to pathogens, the mechanisms underlying their generation are poorly defined. Although extensive work has been done to examine the role of antigen (Ag) in shaping memory formation, most studies focus on the requirements during the first few days of the response known as the priming phase. Little is known about whether or not Ag re-encounter by effector T cells (late Ag) alters CD4 memory T cell formation. Since influenza infection produces a large, heterogeneous, protective CD4 memory T cell population, I used this model to examine the role of late Ag in promoting CD4 memory T cell formation.

In the experiments presented in this thesis, I demonstrate that late Ag is required to rescue responding CD4 T cells from default apoptosis and to program the transition to long-lived memory. Responding cells that failed to re-encounter Ag had decreased memory marker expression and failed to produce multiple cytokines upon re-stimulation. Ag recognition is required at a defined stage, as short-term Ag presentation provided 6 days after infection is able to restore canonical memory formation even in the absence of viral infection. Finally, I find that memory CD4 T cell formation following cold-adapted influenza vaccination is boosted when Ag is administered at this stage. These findings imply that persistence of viral Ag presentation into the effector phase is the key factor that determines the efficiency of memory generation. They also suggest that administering Ag during the effector stage may improve vaccine efficacy.

Regulation of Metabolism by Hepatic OXPHOS: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:17pm

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is an increasingly prevalent issue in the modern world, predisposing patients to serious pathology such as cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Mitochondrial dysfunction, and in particular, diminished hepatic oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) capacity, have been observed in NAFLD livers, which may participate in NAFLD pathogenesis.

To examine the role of OXPHOS in NAFLD, we generated a model of enhanced hepatic OXPHOS using mice with liver-specific transgenic expression of LRPPRC, a protein which activates mitochondrial transcription and augments OXPHOS capacity. When challenged with high-fat feeding, mice with enhanced hepatic OXPHOS were protected from the development of liver steatosis and inflammation, critical components in the pathogenesis of NAFLD. This protection corresponded to increased liver and whole-body insulin sensitivity. Moreover, mice with enhanced hepatic OXPHOS have increased availability of oxidized NAD+, which promotes complete fatty acid oxidation in hepatocytes.

Interestingly, mice with enhanced hepatic OXPHOS were also protected from obesogenic effects of long-term high-fat feeding. Consistent with this, enhanced hepatic OXPHOS increased energy expenditure and adipose tissue oxidative gene expression, suggesting a communication between the liver and adipose tissue to promote thermogenesis. Examination of pro-thermogenic molecules revealed altered bile acid composition in livers and serum of LRPPRC transgenic mice. These mice had increased expression of bile acid synthetic enzymes, genes which are induced by NAD+ dependent deacetylase SIRT1 activation of the transcriptional co-regulator PGC-1a. These findings suggest that enhanced hepatic OXPHOS transcriptionally regulates bile acid synthesis and dictates whole-body energy expenditure, culminating in protection from obesity.

Viruses Implicated in the Initiation of Type 1 Diabetes Affect β Cell Function and Antiviral Innate Immune Responses: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:17pm

The increasing healthcare burden of type 1 diabetes (T1D) makes finding preventive or therapeutic strategies a global priority. This chronic disease is characterized by the autoimmune destruction of the insulin-producing β cells. This destruction leads to poorly controlled blood glucose and accompanying life threatening acute and chronic complications. The role of viral infections as initiating factors for T1D is probable, but contentious. Therefore, my goal is to better characterize the effects of viral infection on human β cells in their function of producing insulin and to define innate immune gene responses in β cells upon viral infection. These aspects were evaluated in various platforms including mice engrafted with primary human islets, cultured primary human islets, β cells derived from human stem cells, and a human β cell line. Furthermore, the contributions of cell-type specific innate immune responses are evaluated in flow cytometry-sorted primary human islet cells. Taken together, the results from these studies provide insights into the mechanisms of the loss of insulin production in β cells during virus infection, and characterize the antiviral innate immune responses that may contribute to the autoimmune destruction of these cells in T1D.

Characterizing the Disorder in Tristetraprolin and its Contribution to Post-Transcriptional Gene Regulation: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:17pm

RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) are important for a wide variety of biological processes involved in gene regulation. However, the structural and dynamic contributions to their biological activity are poorly understood. The tristetraprolin (TTP) family of RBPs, including TTP, TIS11b and TIS11d, regulate the stability of mRNA transcripts encoding for key cancer-related proteins, such as tumor necrosis factor- and vascular endothelial growth factor. Biophysical studies have shown that the RNA binding domain, consisting of two CCCH zinc fingers (ZFs), is folded in the absence of RNA in TIS11d and TIS11b. In TTP, however, only ZF1 adopts a stable fold, while RNA is required to completely fold the tandem zinc finger (TZF). The focus of this research was to understand the origin and biological significance of the structural differences observed for the TZF domains of TTP and TIS11d. Three residues were shown to control the affinity for the structural Zn2+ and determine the folding of ZF2 in the absence of RNA. The partially-folded TZF domain of TTP has greater selectivity for RNA sequences than the fully folded TZF domain of TIS11d. The mRNA destabilizing activity of TTP was increased when the partially disordered RBD of TTP was replaced with the fully structured TZF domain of TIS11d. Disruption of the structure and/or dynamics of the TZF domain observed in the disease-associated mutations of TIS11d, P190L and D219E, results in aberrant cytoplasmic localization. This work demonstrates that the extent of RBD folding in the TTP family is important for differential RNA recognition, mRNA turnover, and protein localization in vivo.

Systematic Experimental Determination of Functional Constraints on Proteins and Adaptive Potential of Mutations: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:17pm

Sequence-function relationship is a fundamental question for many branches of modern biomedical research. It connects the primary sequence of proteins to the function of proteins and fitness of organisms, holding answers for critical questions such as functional consequences of mutations identified in whole genome sequencing and adaptive potential of fast evolving pathogenic viruses and microbes. Many different approaches have been developed to delineate the genotype-phenotype map for different proteins, but are generally limited by their throughput or precision. To systematically quantify the fitness of large numbers of mutations, I modified a novel high throughput mutational scanning approach (EMPIRIC) to investigate the fitness landscape of mutations in important regions of essential proteins from the yeast or RNA viruses. Using EMPIRIC, I analyzed the interplay of the expression level and sequence of Hsp90 on the yeast growth and revealed latent effect of mutations at reduced expression levels of Hsp90. I also examined the functional constraint on the receptor binding site of the Env of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and uncovered enhanced receptor binding capacity as a common pathway for adaptation of HIV to laboratory conditions. Moreover, I explored the adaptive potential of neuraminidase (NA) of influenza A virus to a NA inhibitor, oseltamivir, and identified novel oseltamivir resistance mutations with distinct molecular mechanisms. In summary, I applied a high throughput functional genomics approach to map the sequence-function relationship in various systems and examined the evolutionary constraints and adaptive potential of essential proteins ranging from molecular chaperones to drug-targetable viral proteins.

Synapse Development: Ribonucleoprotein Transport from the Nucleus to the Synapse: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:17pm

A key process underlying synapse development and plasticity is stimulus-dependent translation of localized mRNAs. This process entails RNA packaging into translationally silent granules and exporting them over long distances from the nucleus to the synapse. Little is know about (a) where ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complexes are assembled, and if in the nucleus, how do they exit the nucleus; (b) how RNPs are transported to specific synaptic sites.

At the Drosophila neuromuscular junction (NMJ), we uncovered a novel RNA export pathway for large RNP (megaRNP) granules assembled in the nucleus, which exit the nucleus by budding through the nuclear envelope. In this process, megaRNPs are enveloped by the inner nuclear membrane (INM), travel through the perinuclear space as membrane-bound granules, and are deenveloped at the outer nuclear membrane. We identified Torsin (an AAA-ATPase that in humans is linked to dystonia), as mediator of INM scission. In torsin mutants, megaRNPs accumulate within the perinuclear space, and the mRNAs fail to localize to postsynaptic sites leading to abnormal NMJ development. We also found that nuclear envelope budding is additionally used for RNP export during Drosophila oogenesis.

Our studies also suggested that the nuclear envelope-associated protein, Nesprin1, forms striated F-actin-based filaments or ‘‘railroad tracks,’’ that span from muscle nuclei to postsynaptic sites at the NMJ. Nesprin1 railroad tracks wrap aoround the postsynaptic regions of immature synaptic boutons, and serve to direct RNPs to sites of new synaptic bouton formation. These studies elucidate novel cell biological mechanisms for nuclear RNP export and trafficking during synapse development.

Understanding the Sequence-Specificity and RNA Target Recognition Properties of the Oocyte Maturation Factor, OMA-1, in Caenorhabditis elegans: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:16pm

Maternally supplied mRNAs encode for necessary developmental regulators that pattern early embryos in many species until zygotic transcription is activated. In Caenorhabditis elegans, post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms guide early development during embryogenesis. Maternal transcripts remain in a translationally silenced state until fertilization. A suite of RNA-binding proteins (RBP’s) regulate these maternally supplied mRNAs during oogenesis, the oocyte-to-embryo transition, and early embryogenesis. Identifying the target specificity of these RNA-binding proteins will reveal their contribution to patterning of the embryo. We are studying post-transcriptional regulation of maternal mRNAs during oocyte maturation, which is an essential part of meiosis that prepares oocytes for fertilization. Although the physiological events taking place during oocyte maturation have been well studied, the molecular mechanisms that regulate oocyte maturation are not well understood.

OMA-1 and OMA-2 are essential CCCH-type tandem zinc finger (TZF) RBP’s that function redundantly during oocyte maturation. This dissertation shows that I defined the RNA-binding specificity of OMA-1, and demonstrated that OMA-1/2 are required to repress the expression of 3ʹUTR reporters in developing oocytes. The recovered sequences from in vitro selection demonstrated that OMA-1 binds UAA and UAU repeats in a cooperative fashion. Interestingly, OMA-1 binds with high affinity to a conserved region of the glp-1 3ʹUTR that is rich in UAA and UAU repeats. Multiple RNA-binding proteins regulate translation of GLP-1 protein, a homolog of Notch receptor. In addition to previously identified RBP’s, we showed that OMA-1 and OMA-2 repress glp-1 reporter expression in C. elegans oocytes.

Mapping the OMA-1 dependent regulatory sites in the glp-1 mRNA and characterizing the interplay between OMA-1 and other factors will help reveal how multiple regulatory signals coordinate the transition from oocyte to embryo but the abundance of OMA-1 binding motifs within the glp-1 3ʹUTR makes it infeasible to identify sites with a functional consequence. I therefore first developed a strategy that allowed us to generate transgenic strains efficiently using a library adaptation of MosSCI transgenesis in combination with rapid RNAi screening to identify RBP-mRNA interactions with a functional consequence. This allowed me to identify five novel mRNA targets of OMA-1 with an in vivo regulatory connection. In conclusion, the findings in this dissertation provide new insights into OMA-1 mediated mRNA regulation and provide new tools for C. elegans transgenesis. Development of library MosSCI will advance functional mapping of OMA-1 dependent regulatory sites in the target mRNAs. Extending this strategy to map functional interactions between mRNA targets and RNAbinding proteins in will help reveal how multiple regulatory binding events coordinate complex cellular events such as oocyte to embryo transition and cell-fate specification.

The Role of VTA Gabaergic Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors Containing the α4 Subunit in Nicotine Dependence: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:16pm

Nicotine dependence is hypothesized to be due to neuroadaptations that ultimately drive compulsive nicotine use. The studies in this thesis aim to understand how the “upregulation” of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) caused by chronic exposure to nicotine contributes to nicotine reward and nicotine withdrawal. Previous studies have shown that chronic nicotine induces upregulation of nAChRs containing the α4 subunit (α4* nAChR) within the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA), a brain region critical for the rewarding properties of all illicit drugs. Curiously, α4* nAChR upregulation occurs specifically in the inhibitory GABAergic neuronal subpopulation of the VTA. To determine if increased expression and activation of α4* nAChRs in VTA GABAergic neurons contributes to nicotine dependence behaviors, I devised a viral-mediated, Creregulated gene expression system that selectively expressed α4 nAChR subunits containing a “gain-of-function” point mutation (a leucine mutated to a serine residue at the TM2 9´ position: Leu9´Ser) in VTA GABAergic neurons of adult mice. Sub-reward doses of nicotine were sufficient to activate VTA GABAergic neurons in mice expressing Leu9´Ser α4 nAChR subunits in VTA GABAergic neurons (Gad2VTA: Leu9´Ser mice) and exhibited acute hypolocomotion upon initial injection of low doses of nicotine that developed tolerance with subsequent nicotine exposures compared to control animals. In the conditioned place preference procedure, nicotine was sufficient to condition a significant place preference in Gad2VTA: Leu9´Ser mice at low nicotine doses that failed to condition control animals. I conclude from these data that upregulating α4* nAChRs on VTA GABAergic neurons increases sensitivity to nicotine reward. In a separate study testing the hypothesis that overexpression of Leu9´Ser α4* nAChRs in VTA GABAergic neurons disrupts baseline behavior and promotes anxiety-like behaviors, I found that overexpressing Leu9´Ser α4* nAChRs in VTA GABAergic neurons had a minimal effect on unconditioned anxiety-like behaviors. Drug naïve Gad2VTA: Leu9´Ser and control mice failed to exhibit any behavioral differences in the open-field, marble burying test and elevated plus maze compared to control.

Together, these data indicate that overexpression of the “gain-of-function” α4* nAChRs in VTA GABAergic neurons contributes to reward sensitivity without increasing susceptibility to nicotine withdrawal symptoms. My data indicates that nAChRs expressed in VTA GABAergic neurons may be a suitable target for the development of better smoking cessation aids.

Activation and Inhibition of Multiple Inflammasome Pathways by the Yersinia Pestis Type Three Secretion System: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:16pm

Host survival during plague, caused by the Gram-negative bacterium Yersinia pestis, is favored by a robust early innate immune response initiated by IL-1β and IL-18. Precursors of these cytokines are expressed downstream of TLR signaling and are then enzymatically processed into mature bioactive forms, typically by caspase-1 which is activated through a process dependent on multi-molecular structures called inflammasomes. Y. pestis evades immune detection in part by using a Type three secretion system (T3SS) to inject effector proteins (Yops) into host cells and suppress IL-1β and IL-18 production. We investigated the cooperation between two effectors, YopM and YopJ, in regulating inflammasome activation, and found that Y. pestis lacking both YopM and YopJ triggers robust caspase-1 activation and IL-1Β/IL-18 production in vitro. Furthermore, this strain is attenuated in a manner dependent upon caspase-1, IL-1β and IL-18 in vivo, yet neither effector appears essential for full virulence. We then demonstrate that YopM fails to inhibit NLRP3/NLRC4 mediated caspase-1 activation and is not a general caspase-1 inhibitor. Instead, YopM specifically prevents the activation of a Pyrin-dependent inflammasome by the Rho-GTPase inhibiting effector YopE. Mutations rendering Pyrin hyperactive are implicated in the autoinflammatory disease Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF) in humans, and we discuss the potential significance of this disease in relation to plague. Altogether, the Y. pestis T3SS activates and inhibits several inflammasome pathways, and the fact that so many T3SS components are involved in manipulating IL-1β/IL-18 underscores the importance of these mechanisms in plague.

Mechanisms Regulating Early Mesendodermal Differentiation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:16pm

Key regulatory events take place at very early stages of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) differentiation to accommodate their ability to differentiate into different lineages; this work examines two separate regulatory events.

To investigate precise mechanisms that link alterations in the cell cycle and early differentiation, we examined the initial stages of mesendodermal lineage commitment and observed a cell cycle pause that occurred concurrently with an increase in genes that regulate the G2/M transition, including WEE1. Inhibition of WEE1 prevented the G2 pause. Directed differentiation of hESCs revealed that cells paused during commitment to the endo- and mesodermal, but not ectodermal, lineages. Functionally, WEE1 inhibition during meso- and endodermal differentiation selectively decreased expression of definitive endodermal markers SOX17 and FOXA2. These findings reveal a novel G2 cell cycle pause required for endodermal differentiation.

A role for phenotypic transcription factors in very early differentiation is unknown. From a screen of candidate factors during early mesendodermal differentiation, we found that RUNX1 is selectively and transiently up-regulated. Transcriptome and functional analyses upon RUNX1 depletion established a role for RUNX1 in promoting cell motility. In parallel, we discovered a loss of repression for several epithelial genes, indicating that RUNX1 knockdown impaired an epithelial to mesenchymal transition during differentiation. Cell biological and biochemical approaches revealed that RUNX1 depletion compromised TGFβ2 signaling. Both the decrease in motility and deregulated epithelial marker expression upon RUNX1 depletion were rescued by reintroduction of TGFβ2, but not TGFβ1. These findings identify novel roles for RUNX1-TGFβ2 signaling in mesendodermal lineage commitment.

Evaluating Acceptability, Feasibility and Efficacy of a Diabetes Care Support Program Facilitated by Cellular-Enabled Glucose Meters: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:16pm

Background. Diabetes requires significant disease management, patient-provider communication, and interaction between patients, family members, caregivers, and care teams. Emerging patient-facing technologies, such as cellular-enabled glucose meters, can facilitate additional care support and improve diabetes self-management. This study evaluated patient acceptability, feasibility, and efficacy of a diabetes care support program facilitated by cellular-enabled glucose meters.

Methods. A two-phase study approach was taken. Get In Touch – Phase 1 (GIT-1) was a 1-month pilot involving patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Get In Touch – Phase 2 (GIT-2) was a 12-month randomized controlled crossover trial involving patients with poorly-controlled type 2 diabetes. Results from GIT-1 and preliminary results from GIT-2 are presented.

Results. GIT-1 participants with type 1 (n=6) and type 2 (n=10) diabetes reported the intervention and cellular-enabled glucose meter were easy to use and useful while identifying potential areas of improvement. GIT-2 participants in both the intervention (n=60) and control (n=60) groups saw significant improvements in treatment satisfaction and A1c change, with intervention participants experiencing slightly greater improvements in each after 6 months (p=0.09 and p=0.16, respectively) compared to control participants.

Conclusions. Patients reported favorable acceptability of the intervention. Preliminary results from a randomized trial demonstrated potential of intervention to improve patient-reported and physiological health outcomes. Future studies should evaluate feasibility and efficacy over a longer period of time, with a greater number of participants, and targeting different populations of patients with diabetes. Provider perspectives and changes in provider behavior, clinical work flow, and caregiver burden should also be assessed.

The Role of MDM2 Phosphorylation in P53 Responses to DNA Damage and Tumor Suppression: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:16pm

The p53 tumor suppressor protein is upregulated in response to DNA damage and other stress signals. The upregulation of p53 involves freeing it from negative regulation imposed by Mdm2 and MdmX (Mdm4). Accumulating evidence indicates that phosphorylation of Mdm proteins by different stress-activated kinases such as ATM or c-Abl significantly impacts p53 functions. We have previously shown that ATM phosphorylation of Mdm2 Ser394 is required for robust p53 stabilization and activation following DNA damage.

This dissertation describes in vivo examination of the mechanism by which Mdm2 Ser394 phosphorylation impacts p53 activities and its contribution to suppression of oncogene and DNA damage-induced tumors. We determine that phosphorylation of Mdm2 Ser394 regulates p53 activity by modulating Mdm2 stability and paradoxically delays Myc-driven lymphomagenesis while increasing lymphomagenesis in sub-lethally irradiated mice. c-Abl phosphorylates the residue neighboring Mdm2 Ser394, Mdm2 Tyr393.

This dissertation describes the generation of a novel Mdm2Y393F mutant mouse to determine if c-Abl phosphorylation of Mdm2 regulates p53-mediated DNA damage responses or tumor suppression in vivo. Mdm2Y393F mice develop accelerated spontaneous and oncogene-induced tumors, yet display no defects in p53 stabilization and activity following acute genotoxic stress. Furthermore, the effects of these phosphorylation events on p53 regulation are not additive, as Mdm2Y393F/S394A mice and Mdm2S394A mice display similar phenotypes.

The studies presented herein further our understanding of the mechanisms by which DNA damage-associated kinases stabilize and activate p53, and influence p53-dependent responses and tumor suppression. A better understanding of the in vivo effects of Mdm2 phosphorylation may facilitate the development of novel therapeutics capable of stimulating p53 anti-tumor activity or alleviating p53- dependent toxicities in non-malignant tissues.

Investigation of RNA Binding Protein Pumilio as a Genetic Modifier of Mutant CHMP2B in Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD): A Masters Thesis

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:16pm

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is the second most common early-onset dementia. A rare mutation in CHMP2B gene was found to be associated with FTD linked to chromosome 3. Previous studies have shown that mutant CHMP2B could lead to impaired autophagy pathway and altered RNA metabolism. However, it is still unknown what genes mediate the crosstalk between different pathways affected by mutant CHMP2B. Genetic screens designed to identify genes interacting with mutant CHMP2B represents a key approach in solving the puzzle. Expression of mutant CHMP2B (CHMP2Bintron5) in Drosophila eyes leads to a neurodegenerative phenotype including melanin deposition and disrupted internal structure of ommatidia. The phenotype is easily quantified by estimating the percentage of black dots on the surface of the eyes. Using this established Drosophila model, I searched for genes encoding RNA binding proteins that genetically modify CHMP2Bintron5 toxicity. I found that partial loss of Pumilio, a translation repressor, mitigates CHMP2Bintron5 induced toxicity in the fly eyes. Western blot analysis showed that down regulation of Pumilio does not significantly decrease CHMP2Bintron5 protein level, indicating indirect regulation involved in suppression of the phenotype. The molecular targets regulated by Pumilio and the mechanism underlying CHMP2Bintron5 toxicity suppression by Pumilio down-regulation requires further investigation.

mTORC2 Promotes Lipid Storage and Suppresses Thermogenesis in Brown Adipose Tissue in Part Through AKT-Independent Regulation of FoxO1: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:16pm

Recent studies suggest adipose tissue plays a critical role in regulating whole body energy homeostasis in both animals and humans. In particular, activating brown adipose tissue (BAT) activity is now appreciated as a potential therapeutic strategy against obesity and metabolic disease. However, the signaling circuits that coordinate nutrient uptake and BAT function are poorly understood. Here, I investigated the role of the nutrient-sensing mTOR signaling pathway in BAT by conditionally deleting Rictor, which encodes an essential component of mTOR Complex 2 (mTORC2) either in brown adipocyte precursors or mature brown adipocytes. In general, inhibiting BAT mTORC2 reduces glucose uptake and de novo lipogenesis pathways while increases lipid uptake and oxidation pathways indicating a switch in fuel utilization. Moreover, several key thermogenic factors (Ucp1, Pgc1α, and Irf4) are elevated in Rictor-deficient BAT, resulting in enhanced thermogenesis. Accordingly, mice with mTORC2 loss in BAT are protected from HFD-induced obesity and metabolic disease at thermoneutrality. In vitro culture experiments further suggest that mTORC2 cell-autonomously regulates the BAT thermogenic program, especially Ucp1 expression, which depends on FoxO1 activity. Mechanistically, mTORC2 appears to inhibit FoxO1 by facilitating its lysine-acetylation but not through the canonical AKT-mediated phosphorylation pathway. Finally, I also provide evidence that β-adrenergic signaling which normally triggers thermogenesis also induces FoxO1 deacetylation in BAT. Based on these data, I propose a model in which mTORC2 functions in BAT as a critical signaling hub for coordinating nutrient uptake, fuel utilization, and thermogenic gene expression. These data provide a foundation for future studies into the mTORC2-FoxO1 signaling axis in different metabolic tissues and physiological conditions.

Structural Mechanisms of the Sliding Clamp and Sliding Clamp Loader: Insights into Disease and Function: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:16pm

Chromosomal replication is an essential process in all life. This dissertation highlights regulatory roles for two critical protein complexes at the heart of the replication fork: 1) the sliding clamp, the major polymerase processivity factor, and 2) the sliding clamp loader, a spiral-shaped AAA+ ATPase, which loads the clamp onto DNA.

The clamp is a promiscuous binding protein that interacts with at least 100 binding partners to orchestrate many processes on DNA, but spatiotemporal regulation of these binding interactions is unknown. Remarkably, a recent disease-causing mutant of the sliding clamp showed specific defects in DNA repair pathways. We aimed to use this mutant as a tool to understand the binding specificity of clamp interactions, and investigate the disease further. We solved three structures of the mutant, and biochemically showed perturbation of partnerbinding for some, but not all, ligands. Using a fission yeast model, we showed that mutant cells are sensitive to select DNA damaging agents. These data revealed significant flexibility within the binding site, which likely regulates partner binding.

Before the clamp can act on DNA, the sliding clamp loader places the clamp onto DNA at primer/template (p/t) junctions. The clamp loader reaction couples p/t binding and subsequent ATP hydrolysis to clamp closure. Here we show that composition (RNA vs. DNA) of the primer strand affects clamp loader binding, and that the order of ATP hydrolysis around the spiral is likely sequential. These studies highlight additional details into the clamp loader mechanism, which further elucidate general mechanisms of AAA+ machinery.

A Walk on the Fine Line Between Reward and Risk: AAV-IFNβ Gene Therapy for Glioblastoma: A Dissertation

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 12:16pm

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common and aggressive primary brain tumor. The current standard-of-care treatment including surgery, radiation and temozolomide (TMZ) chemotherapy does not prolong the survival satisfactorily. Here we have tested the feasibility, efficacy and safety of a potential gene therapy approach using AAV as gene delivery vehicle for treatment of GBM.

Interferon-beta (IFNβ) is a cytokine molecule also having pleiotropic anticancerous properties. Previously it has been shown by our group that AAV mediated local (intracranial) gene delivery of human IFNβ (hIFNβ) could be an effective treatment for non-invasive human glioblastoma (U87) in orthotopic xenograft mouse model.But as one of the major challenges to treat GBM effectively in clinics is its highly invasive property, in the current study we first sought to test the efficacy of our therapeutic model in a highly invasive human GBM (GBM8) xenograft mouse model.

One major limitation of using the xenograft mouse model is that these mice are immune-compromised. Moreover, as IFNβ does not interact with cross-species receptors, the influence of immune systems on GBM remains largely untested. Therefore to test the therapeutic approach in an immune-competent mouse model, we next treated a syngeneic mouse GBM model (GL261) in an immune-competent mouse (C57B6) with the gene encoding the species-matched IFNβ (mIFNβ). We also tested if combination of this IFNβ gene therapy with the current standard chemotherapeutic drug (TMZ) is more effective than any one of the therapeutic modes alone. Finally, we tested the long term safety of the AAV-mIFNβ local gene therapy in healthy C57B6 mice.

Next, we hypothesized that global genetic engineering of brain cells expressing secretory therapeutic protein like hIFNβ could be more beneficial for treatment of invasive, migratory and distal multifocal GBM. We tested this hypothesis using systemic delivery of AAV9 vectors encoding hIFNβ gene for treatment of GBM8 tumor in nude mice.

Using in vivo bioluminescence imaging of tumor associated firefly luciferase activity, long term survival assay and histological analysis of the brains we have shown that local treatment of AAV-hIFNβ for highly invasive human GBM8 is therapeutically beneficial at an early growth phase of tumor. However, systemic delivery route treatment is far superior for treating multifocal distal GBM8 tumors. Nonetheless, for both delivery routes, treatment efficacy is significantly reduced when treated at a later growth phase of the tumor.

In syngeneic GL261 tumor model study, we show that local AAV-mIFNβ gene therapy alone or in combination with TMZ treatment can provide significant survival benefit over control or only TMZ treatment, respectively. However, the animals eventually succumb to the tumor. Safety study in the healthy animals shows significant body weight loss in some treatment groups, whereas one group shows long term survival without any weight loss or any noticeable changes in the external appearances. However, histological analysis indicates marked demyelinating neurotoxic effects upon long term exposures to mIFNβ over-expressions in brain. Overall, we conclude from this study that AAV-IFNβ gene therapy has great therapeutic potential for GBM treatment in future, but the therapeutic window is small and long term continuous expression could have severe deleterious effects on health.

Roles of the Mother Centriole Appendage Protein Cenexin in Microtubule Organization during Cell Migration and Cell Division: A Dissertation

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 12:01pm

Epithelial cells are necessary building blocks of the organs they line. Their apicalbasolateral polarity, characterized by an asymmetric distribution of cell components along their apical-basal axis, is a requirement for normal organ function. Although the centrosome, also known as the microtubule organizing center, is important in establishing cell polarity the mechanisms through which it achieves this remain unclear. It has been suggested that the centrosome influences cell polarity through microtubule cytoskeleton organization and endosome trafficking. In the first chapter of this thesis, I summarize the current understanding of the mechanisms regulating cell polarity and review evidence for the role of centrosomes in this process.

In the second chapter, I examine the roles of the mother centriole appendages in cell polarity during cell migration and cell division. Interestingly, the subdistal appendages, but not the distal appendages, are essential in both processes, a role they achieve through organizing centrosomal microtubules. Depletion of subdistal appendages disrupts microtubule organization at the centrosome and hence, affects microtubule stability. These microtubule defects affect centrosome reorientation and spindle orientation during cell migration and division, respectively. In addition, depletion of subdistal appendages affects the localization and dynamics of apical polarity proteins in relation to microtubule stability and endosome recycling. Taken together, our results suggest the mother centriole subdistal appendages play an essential role in regulating cell polarity. A discussion of the significance of these results is included in chapter three.

Viral Proteases as Drug Targets and the Mechanisms of Drug Resistance: A Dissertation

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 12:01pm

Viral proteases have been shown to be effective targets of anti-viral therapies for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). However, under the pressure of therapy including protease inhibitors, the virus evolves to select drug resistance mutations both in the protease and substrates. In my thesis study, I aimed to understand the mechanisms of how this protease−substrate co-evolution contributes to drug resistance. Currently, there are no approved drugs against dengue virus (DENV); I investigated substrate recognition by DENV protease and designed cyclic peptides as inhibitors targeting the prime site of dengue protease.

First, I used X-ray crystallography and subsequent structural analysis to investigate the molecular basis of HIV-1 protease and p1-p6 substrate coevolution. I found that co-evolved p1-p6 substrates rescue the HIV-1 I50V protease’s binding activity by forming more van der Waals contacts and hydrogen bonds, and that co-evolution restores the dynamics at the active site for all three mutant substrates.

Next, I used aprotinin as a platform to investigate DENV protease–substrate recognizing pattern, which revealed that the prime side residues significantly modulate substrate affinity to protease and the optimal interactions at each residue position. Based on these results, I designed cyclic peptide inhibitors that target the prime site pocket of DENV protease. Through optimizing the length and sequence, the best inhibitor achieved a 2.9 micromolar Ki value against DENV3 protease. Since dengue protease does not share substrate sequence with human serine proteases, these cyclic peptides can be used as scaffolds for inhibitor design with higher specificity.