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Emerging preclinical animal models for FSHD

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 9:26am

Facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD) is a unique and complex genetic disease that is not entirely solved. Recent advances in the field have led to a consensus genetic premise for the disorder, enabling researchers to now pursue the design of preclinical models. In this review we explore all available FSHD models (DUX4-dependent and -independent) for their utility in therapeutic discovery and potential to yield novel disease insights. Owing to the complex nature of FSHD, there is currently no single model that accurately recapitulates the genetic and pathophysiological spectrum of the disorder. Existing models emphasize only specific aspects of the disease, highlighting the need for more collaborative research and novel paradigms to advance the translational research space of FSHD.

The Recombination Enhancer Modulates the Conformation of Chr. III in Budding Yeast: A Dissertation

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 3:25pm

A hierarchy of different chromosome conformations plays a role in many biological systems. These conformations contribute to the regulation of gene expression, cellular development, chromosome transmission, and defects can lead to human disease. The highest functional level of this hierarchy is the partitioning of the genome into compartments of active and inactive chromatin domains (1’s -10’s Mb). These compartments are further partitioned into Topologically Associating Domains (TADs) that spatially cluster co-regulated genes (100’s kb – 1’s Mb). The final level that has been observed is long range loops formed between regulatory elements and promoters (10’s kb – 100’s Mb). At all of these levels, mechanisms that establish these conformations remain poorly understood. To gain new insights into processes that determine chromosome folding I used the mating type switching system in budding yeast to study the chromosome conformation at length scales analogous to looping interaction. I specifically examined the role in chromosome conformation in the mating type switching system. Budding yeast cells can have two sexes: MATa and MATα. The mating types are determined by allele-specific expression of the MAT locus on chromosome III. The MATa allele encodes for transcription factors responsible for the MATa mating type and the MATα allele encodes transcription factors responsible for the MATα mating type. Yeast cells can switch their mating type by a process that repairs a break at MAT using one of two silent loci, HML or HMR, as a donor to convert the allele at the MAT locus. When MATa cells switch they prefer to use HML, which contains the MATα allele, located at the end of the left arm. MATα cells prefer to use HMR, which contains the MATa allele, located on the end of the right arm of chromosome III. The sequences of the HM loci are not important for donor preference. Instead the cell chooses the donor on the left arm in MATa cells and chooses the donor on the right arm in MATα cells. This lack of sequence specificity has led to the hypothesis that the conformation of the chromosome may play a role in donor preference. I found that the conformation of chromosome III is, indeed, different between the two mating types. In MATa cells the chromosomes displays a more crumpled conformation in which the left arm of the chromosome interacts with a large region of the right arm which includes the centromere and the MAT locus. In MATα cells, on the other hand, the left arm of the chromosomes displays a more extend conformation. I found that the Recombination Enhancer (RE), which enhances recombination along the left arm of the chromosome in MATa cells, is responsible for these mating type-specific conformations. Deleting the RE affects the conformation of the chromosomes in both MATa and MATα cells. The left portion of the RE, which is essential for donor preference during the switching reaction in MATa cells, does not contribute to the conformation in MATa. This region does have a minor effect on the conformation in MATα cells. However, I found that the right portion of the RE is responsible for the conformation of chromosome III in both mating types prior to initiation of switching. This work demonstrates that chromosome conformation is determined by specific cis regulatory elements that drive cell-type specific chromosome conformation.

The Study of Two Strategies for Decreasing Mutant Huntingtin: Degradation by Puromycin Sensitive AminoPeptidase and RNA Interference: A Dissertation

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 3:25pm

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease caused by a CAG repeat expansion in exon 1 of the huntingtin gene, resulting in an expanded polyglutamine (polyQ) repeat in the huntingtin protein. Patients receive symptomatic treatment for motor, emotional, and cognitive impairments; however, there is no treatment to slow the progression of the disease, with death occurring 15-20 years after diagnosis. Mutant huntingtin protein interferes with multiple cellular processes leading to cellular dysfunction and neuronal loss. Due to the complexity of mutant huntingtin toxicity, many approaches to treating each effect are being investigated. Unfortunately, addressing one cause of toxicity might not result in protection from other toxic insults, necessitating a combination of treatments for HD patients. Ideally, single therapy targeting the mutant mRNA or protein could prevent all downstream toxicities caused by mutant huntingtin. In this work, I used animal models to investigate a potential therapeutic target for decreasing mutant huntingtin protein, and I apply bioluminescent imaging to investigate RNA interference to silence mutant huntingtin target sites.

The enzyme puromycin sensitive aminopeptidase (PSA) has the unique property of degrading polyQ peptides and been implicated in the degradation of huntingtin. In this study, we looked for an effect of decreased PSA on the pathology and behavior in a mouse model of Huntington’s disease. To achieve this, we crossed HD mice with mice with one functional PSA allele and one inactivated PSA allele. We found that PSA heterozygous HD mice develop a greater number of pathological inclusion bodies, representing an accumulation of mutant huntingtin in neurons. PSA heterozygous HD mice also exhibit worsened performance on the raised-beam test, a test for balance and coordination indicating that the PSA heterozygosity impairs the function of neurons with mutant huntingtin. In order to test whether increasing PSA expression ameliorates the HD phenotype in mice we created an adeno-associated virus (AAV) expressing the human form of PSA (AAV-hPSA). Unexpectedly, testing of AAV-hPSA in non-HD mice resulted in widespread toxicity at high doses. These findings suggest that overexpression of PSA is toxic to neurons in the conditions tested.

In the second part of my dissertation work, I designed a model for following the silencing of huntingtin sequences in the brain. Firefly luciferase is a bioluminescent enzyme that is extensively used as a reporter molecule to follow biological processes in vivo using bioluminescent imaging (BLI). I created an AAV expressing the luciferase gene containing huntingtin sequences in the 3'-untranslated region (AAV-Luc-Htt). After co-injection of AAV-Luc-Htt with RNA-silencing molecules (RNAi) into the brain, we followed luciferase activity. Using this method, we tested cholesterol-conjugated siRNA, un-conjugated siRNA, and hairpin RNA targeting both luciferase and huntingtin sequences. Despite being able to detect silencing on isolated days, we were unable to detect sustained silencing, which had been reported in similar studies in tissues other than the brain. We observed an interesting finding that co-injection of cholesterol-conjugated siRNA with AAV-Luc-Htt increased luminescence, findings that were verified in cell culture to be independent of serotype, siRNA sequence, and cell type. That cc-siRNA affects the expression of AAV-Luc-Htt reveals an interesting interaction possibly resulting in increased delivery of AAV into cells or an increase in luciferase expression within the cell. My work presents a method to follow gene silencing of huntingtin targets in the brain, which needs further optimization in order to detect sustained silencing.

Finally, in this dissertation I continue the study of bioluminescent imaging in the brain. We use mice that have been injected in the brain with AAV-Luciferase (AAV-Luc) to screen 34 luciferase substrate solutions to identify the greatest light-emitting substrate in the brain. We identify two substrates, CycLuc1 and iPr-amide as substrates with enhanced light-emitting properties compared with D-luciferin, the standard, commercially available substrate. CycLuc1 and iPr-amide were tested in transgenic mice expressing luciferase in dopaminergic neurons. These novel substrates produced luminescence unlike the standard substrate, D-luciferin which was undetectable. This demonstrates that CycLuc1 and iPr-amide improve the sensitivity of BLI in low expression models. We then used CycLuc1 to test silencing of luciferase in the brain using AAV-shRNA (AAV-shLuc). We were unable to detect silencing in treated mice, despite a 50% reduction of luciferase mRNA. The results from this experiment identify luciferase substrates that can be used to image transgenic mice expressing luciferase in dopaminergic neurons.

My work contributes new data on the study of PSA as a modifier of Huntington’s disease in a knock-in mouse model of Huntington’s disease. My work also makes contributions to the field of bioluminescent imaging by identifying and testing luciferase substrates in the brain to detect low level of luciferase expression.

En Français S'il Vous Plaît: Translation and Adaptation of the New England Collaborative Data Management Curriculum’s Introductory Module

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 9:11am

The New England Collaborative Data Management Curriculum (NECDMC) is “an instructional tool for teaching data management best practices to undergraduates, graduate students, and researchers in the health sciences” (Lamar Soutter Library 2015a). This article reports on the French translation and adaptation of the first module of the NECDMC as part of the design of a short library instruction workshop.

Characterization of Envelope-Specific Antibody Response Elicited by HIV-1 Vaccines: A Dissertation

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 3:15pm

Despite 30 years of intensive research,an effective human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) vaccine still remains elusive. The desirable immune response capable of providing protection against HIV acquisition is still not clear. The accumulating evidence learned from a recent vaccine efficacy correlate study not only confirmed the importance of antibody responses, but also highlighted potential protective functions of antibodies with a broad repertoire of HIV-1 epitope specificities and a wide range of different antiviral mechanisms. This necessitates a deep understanding of the complexity and diversity of antibody responses elicited by HIV-1 vaccines. My dissertation characterizes antibody response profiles of HIV-1 Env antibodies elicited by several novel immunogens or different immunization regimens, in terms of magnitude, persistence, epitope specificity, binding affinity, and biological function.

First, to overcome the challenge of studying polyclonal sera without established assays, we expanded a novel platform to isolate Env-specific Rabbit mAbs (RmAb) elicited by DNA prime-protein boost immunization. These RmAbs revealed diverse epitope specificity and cross-reactivity against multiple gp120 antigens from more than one subtype, and several had potent and broad neutralizing activities against sensitive Tier 1 viruses. Further, structural analysis of two V3 mAbs demonstrated that a slight shift of the V3 epitope might have a dramatic impact on their neutralization activity. All of these observations provide a useful tool to study the induction of a desired type of antibody by different immunogens or different immunization regimens.

Since heavily glycosylated HIV Env protein is a critical component of an HIV vaccine, we wanted to determine the impact of the HIV Env-associated glycan shield on antibody responses. We were able to produce Env proteins with a selective and homogeneous pattern of N-glycosylation using a glycoengineered yeast cell line. Antigenicity of these novel Env proteins was examined by well-characterized human mAbs. Immunogenicity studies showed that they were immunogenic and elicited gp120- specific antibody responses. More significantly, sera elicited by glycan-modified gp120 protein immunogens revealed better neutralizing activities and increased diversity of epitopes compared to sera elicited by traditional gp120 produced in Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cells.

Further, we examined the impact of the delivery order of DNA and protein immunization on antibody responses. We found that DNA prime-protein boost induced a comparable level of Env-specific binding Abs at the peak immunogenicity point to codelivery of DNA. However, antibody responses from DNA prime-protein boost had high avidity and diverse specificities, which improved potency and breadth of neutralizing Abs against Tier 1 viruses. Our data indicate that DNA vaccine priming of the immune system is essential for generation of high-quality antibodies.

Additionally, we determined the relative immunogenicity of gp120 and gp160 Env in the context of DNA prime-protein boost vaccination to induce high-quality antibody responses. Immunized sera from gp120 DNA primed animals, but not those primed with gp160 DNA, presented with distinct antibody repertoire specificities, a high magnitude of CD4 binding site-directed binding capabilities as well as neutralizing activities. We confirmed the importance of using the gp120 Env form at the DNA priming phase, which directly determined the quality of antibody response.

Antiplatelet activity, P2Y(1) and P2Y(1)(2) inhibition, and metabolism in plasma of stereoisomers of diadenosine 5',5'''-P(1) ,P(4)-dithio-P(2),P(3)-chloromethylenetetraphosphate

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:43am

BACKGROUND: Diadenosine tetraphosphate (Ap4A), a constituent of platelet dense granules, and its P1,P4-dithio and/or P2,P3-chloromethylene analogs, inhibit adenosine diphosphate (ADP)-induced platelet aggregation. We recently reported that these compounds antagonize both platelet ADP receptors, P2Y1 and P2Y12. The most active of those analogs, diadenosine 5',5''''-P1,P4-dithio-P2,P3-chloromethylenetetraphosphate, (compound 1), exists as a mixture of 4 stereoisomers.

OBJECTIVE: To separate the stereoisomers of compound 1 and determine their effects on platelet aggregation, platelet P2Y1 and P2Y12 receptor antagonism, and their metabolism in human plasma.

METHODS: We separated the 4 diastereomers of compound 1 by preparative reversed-phase chromatography, and studied their effect on ADP-induced platelet aggregation, P2Y1-mediated changes in cytosolic Ca2+, P2Y12-mediated changes in VASP phosphorylation, and metabolism in human plasma.

RESULTS: The inhibition of ADP-induced human platelet aggregation and human platelet P2Y12 receptor, and stability in human plasma strongly depended on the stereo-configuration of the chiral P1- and P4-phosphorothioate groups, the SPSP diastereomer being the most potent inhibitor and completely resistant to degradation in plasma, and the RPRP diastereomer being the least potent inhibitor and with the lowest plasma stability. The inhibitory activity of SPRP diastereomers depended on the configuration of the pseudo-asymmetric carbon of the P2,P3-chloromethylene group, one of the configurations being significantly more active than the other. Their plasma stability did not differ significantly, being intermediate to that of the SPSP and the RPRP diastereomers.

CONCLUSIONS: The presently-described stereoisomers have utility for structural, mechanistic, and drug development studies of dual antagonists of platelet P2Y1 and P2Y12 receptors.

DeTEXT: A Database for Evaluating Text Extraction from Biomedical Literature Figures

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:43am

Hundreds of millions of figures are available in biomedical literature, representing important biomedical experimental evidence. Since text is a rich source of information in figures, automatically extracting such text may assist in the task of mining figure information. A high-quality ground truth standard can greatly facilitate the development of an automated system. This article describes DeTEXT: A database for evaluating text extraction from biomedical literature figures. It is the first publicly available, human-annotated, high quality, and large-scale figure-text dataset with 288 full-text articles, 500 biomedical figures, and 9308 text regions. This article describes how figures were selected from open-access full-text biomedical articles and how annotation guidelines and annotation tools were developed. We also discuss the inter-annotator agreement and the reliability of the annotations. We summarize the statistics of the DeTEXT data and make available evaluation protocols for DeTEXT. Finally we lay out challenges we observed in the automated detection and recognition of figure text and discuss research directions in this area. DeTEXT is publicly available for downloading at

TRAFD1 (FLN29) Interacts with Plekhm1 and Regulates Osteoclast Acidification and Resorption

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:43am

Plekhm1 is a large, multi-modular, adapter protein implicated in osteoclast vesicle trafficking and bone resorption. In patients, inactivating mutations cause osteopetrosis, and gain-of-function mutations cause osteopenia. Investigations of potential Plekhm1 interaction partners by mass spectrometry identified TRAFD1 (FLN29), a protein previously shown to suppress toll-like receptor signaling in monocytes/macrophages, thereby dampening inflammatory responses to innate immunity. We mapped the binding domains to the TRAFD1 zinc finger (aa 37-60), and to the region of Plekhm1 between its second pleckstrin homology domain and its C1 domain (aa 784-986). RANKL slightly increased TRAFD1 levels, particularly in primary osteoclasts, and the co-localization of TRAFD1 with Plekhm1 also increased with RANKL treatment. Stable knockdown of TRAFD1 in RAW 264.7 cells inhibited resorption activity proportionally to the degree of knockdown, and inhibited acidification. The lack of acidification occurred despite the presence of osteoclast acidification factors including carbonic anhydrase II, a3-V-ATPase, and the ClC7 chloride channel. Secretion of TRAP and cathepsin K were also markedly inhibited in knockdown cells. Truncated Plekhm1 in ia/ia osteopetrotic rat cells prevented vesicle localization of Plekhm1 and TRAFD1. We conclude that TRAFD1, in association with Plekhm1/Rab7-positive late endosomes-early lysosomes, has a previously unknown role in vesicle trafficking, acidification, and resorption in osteoclasts.

A multilaboratory comparison of calibration accuracy and the performance of external references in analytical ultracentrifugation

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:43am

Analytical ultracentrifugation (AUC) is a first principles based method to determine absolute sedimentation coefficients and buoyant molar masses of macromolecules and their complexes, reporting on their size and shape in free solution. The purpose of this multi-laboratory study was to establish the precision and accuracy of basic data dimensions in AUC and validate previously proposed calibration techniques. Three kits of AUC cell assemblies containing radial and temperature calibration tools and a bovine serum albumin (BSA) reference sample were shared among 67 laboratories, generating 129 comprehensive data sets. These allowed for an assessment of many parameters of instrument performance, including accuracy of the reported scan time after the start of centrifugation, the accuracy of the temperature calibration, and the accuracy of the radial magnification. The range of sedimentation coefficients obtained for BSA monomer in different instruments and using different optical systems was from 3.655 S to 4.949 S, with a mean and standard deviation of (4.304 +/- 0.188) S (4.4%). After the combined application of correction factors derived from the external calibration references for elapsed time, scan velocity, temperature, and radial magnification, the range of s-values was reduced 7-fold with a mean of 4.325 S and a 6-fold reduced standard deviation of +/- 0.030 S (0.7%). In addition, the large data set provided an opportunity to determine the instrument-to-instrument variation of the absolute radial positions reported in the scan files, the precision of photometric or refractometric signal magnitudes, and the precision of the calculated apparent molar mass of BSA monomer and the fraction of BSA dimers. These results highlight the necessity and effectiveness of independent calibration of basic AUC data dimensions for reliable quantitative studies.

Novel Roles of GATA4/6 in the Postnatal Heart Identified through Temporally Controlled, Cardiomyocyte-Specific Gene Inactivation by Adeno-Associated Virus Delivery of Cre Recombinase

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:42am

GATA4 and GATA6 are central cardiac transcriptional regulators. The postnatal, stage-specific function of the cardiac transcription factors GATA4 and GATA6 have not been evaluated. In part, this is because current Cre-loxP approaches to cardiac gene inactivation require time consuming and costly breeding of Cre-expressing and "floxed" mouse lines, often with limited control of the extent or timing of gene inactivation. We investigated the stage-specific functions of GATA4 and GATA6 in the postnatal heart by using adeno-associated virus serotype 9 to control the timing and extent of gene inactivation by Cre. Systemic delivery of recombinant, adeno-associated virus 9 (AAV9) expressing Cre from the cardiac specific Tnnt2 promoter was well tolerated and selectively and efficiently recombined floxed target genes in cardiomyocytes. AAV9:Tnnt2-Cre efficiently inactivated Gata4 and Gata6. Neonatal Gata4/6 inactivation caused severe, rapidly lethal systolic heart failure. In contrast, Gata4/6 inactivation in adult heart caused only mild systolic dysfunction but severe diastolic dysfunction. Reducing the dose of AAV9:Tnnt2-Cre generated mosaics in which scattered cardiomyocytes lacked Gata4/6. This mosaic knockout revealed that Gata4/6 are required cell autonomously for physiological cardiomyocyte growth. Our results define novel roles of GATA4 and GATA6 in the neonatal and adult heart. Furthermore, our data demonstrate that evaluation of gene function hinges on controlling the timing and extent of gene inactivation. AAV9:Tnnt2-Cre is a powerful tool for controlling these parameters.

The Origin, Development and Molecular Diversity of Rodent Olfactory Bulb Glutamatergic Neurons Distinguished by Expression of Transcription Factor NeuroD1

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:42am

Production of olfactory bulb neurons occurs continuously in the rodent brain. Little is known, however, about cellular diversity in the glutamatergic neuron subpopulation. In the central nervous system, the basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor NeuroD1 (ND1) is commonly associated with glutamatergic neuron development. In this study, we utilized ND1 to identify the different subpopulations of olfactory bulb glutamategic neurons and their progenitors, both in the embryo and postnatally. Using knock-in mice, transgenic mice and retroviral transgene delivery, we demonstrate the existence of several different populations of glutamatergic olfactory bulb neurons, the progenitors of which are ND1+ and ND1- lineage-restricted, and are temporally and regionally separated. We show that the first olfactory bulb glutamatergic neurons produced - the mitral cells - can be divided into molecularly diverse subpopulations. Our findings illustrate the complexity of neuronal diversity in the olfactory bulb and that seemingly homogenous neuronal populations can consist of multiple subpopulations with unique molecular signatures of transcription factors and expressing neuronal subtype-specific markers.

Studies of OC-STAMP in Osteoclast Fusion: A New Knockout Mouse Model, Rescue of Cell Fusion, and Transmembrane Topology

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:42am

The fusion of monocyte/macrophage lineage cells into fully active, multinucleated, bone resorbing osteoclasts is a complex cell biological phenomenon that utilizes specialized proteins. OC-STAMP, a multi-pass transmembrane protein, has been shown to be required for pre-osteoclast fusion and for optimal bone resorption activity. A previously reported knockout mouse model had only mononuclear osteoclasts with markedly reduced resorption activity in vitro, but with paradoxically normal skeletal micro-CT parameters. To further explore this and related questions, we used mouse ES cells carrying a gene trap allele to generate a second OC-STAMP null mouse strain. Bone histology showed overall normal bone form with large numbers of TRAP-positive, mononuclear osteoclasts. Micro-CT parameters were not significantly different between knockout and wild type mice at 2 or 6 weeks old. At 6 weeks, metaphyseal TRAP-positive areas were lower and mean size of the areas were smaller in knockout femora, but bone turnover markers in serum were normal. Bone marrow mononuclear cells became TRAP-positive when cultured with CSF-1 and RANKL, but they did not fuse. Expression levels of other osteoclast markers, such as cathepsin K, carbonic anhydrase II, and NFATc1, were not significantly different compared to wild type. Actin rings were present, but small, and pit assays showed a 3.5-fold decrease in area resorbed. Restoring OC-STAMP in knockout cells by lentiviral transduction rescued fusion and resorption. N- and C-termini of OC-STAMP were intracellular, and a predicted glycosylation site was shown to be utilized and to lie on an extracellular loop. The site is conserved in all terrestrial vertebrates and appears to be required for protein stability, but not for fusion. Based on this and other results, we present a topological model of OC-STAMP as a 6-transmembrane domain protein. We also contrast the osteoclast-specific roles of OC- and DC-STAMP with more generalized cell fusion mechanisms.

MicroRNA-155 Deficiency Attenuates Liver Steatosis and Fibrosis without Reducing Inflammation in a Mouse Model of Steatohepatitis

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:42am

BACKGROUND and AIM: MicroRNAs (miRs) regulate hepatic steatosis, inflammation and fibrosis. Fibrosis is the consequence of chronic tissue damage and inflammation. We hypothesized that deficiency of miR-155, a master regulator of inflammation, attenuates steatohepatitis and fibrosis.

METHODS: Wild type (WT) and miR-155-deficient (KO) mice were fed methionine-choline-deficient (MCD) or -supplemented (MCS) control diet for 5 weeks. Liver injury, inflammation, steatosis and fibrosis were assessed.

RESULTS: MCD diet resulted in steatohepatitis and increased miR-155 expression in total liver, hepatocytes and Kupffer cells. Steatosis and expression of genes involved in fatty acid metabolism were attenuated in miR-155 KO mice after MCD feeding. In contrast, miR-155 deficiency failed to attenuate inflammatory cell infiltration, nuclear factor kappa beta (NF-kappaB) activation and enhanced the expression of the pro-inflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha) and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP1) in MCD diet-fed mice. We found a significant attenuation of apoptosis (cleaved caspase-3) and reduction in collagen and alpha smooth muscle actin (alphaSMA) levels in miR-155 KO mice compared to WTs on MCD diet. In addition, we found attenuation of platelet derived growth factor (PDGF), a pro-fibrotic cytokine; SMAD family member 3 (Smad3), a protein involved in transforming growth factor-beta (TGFbeta) signal transduction and vimentin, a mesenchymal marker and indirect indicator of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in miR-155 KO mice. Nuclear binding of CCAAT enhancer binding protein beta (C/EBPbeta) a miR-155 target involved in EMT was significantly increased in miR-155 KO compared to WT mice.

CONCLUSIONS: Our novel data demonstrate that miR-155 deficiency can reduce steatosis and fibrosis without decreasing inflammation in steatohepatitis.

Paradoxical Immune Responses in Non-HIV Cryptococcal Meningitis

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:42am

The fungus Cryptococcus is a major cause of meningoencephalitis in HIV-infected as well as HIV-uninfected individuals with mortalities in developed countries of 20% and 30%, respectively. In HIV-related disease, defects in T-cell immunity are paramount, whereas there is little understanding of mechanisms of susceptibility in non-HIV related disease, especially that occurring in previously healthy adults. The present description is the first detailed immunological study of non-HIV-infected patients including those with severe central nervous system (s-CNS) disease to 1) identify mechanisms of susceptibility as well as 2) understand mechanisms underlying severe disease. Despite the expectation that, as in HIV, T-cell immunity would be deficient in such patients, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) immunophenotyping, T-cell activation studies, soluble cytokine mapping and tissue cellular phenotyping demonstrated that patients with s-CNS disease had effective microbiological control, but displayed strong intrathecal expansion and activation of cells of both the innate and adaptive immunity including HLA-DR+ CD4+ and CD8+ cells and NK cells. These expanded CSF T cells were enriched for cryptococcal-antigen specific CD4+ cells and expressed high levels of IFN-gamma as well as a lack of elevated CSF levels of typical T-cell specific Th2 cytokines -- IL-4 and IL-13. This inflammatory response was accompanied by elevated levels of CSF NFL, a marker of axonal damage, consistent with ongoing neurological damage. However, while tissue macrophage recruitment to the site of infection was intact, polarization studies of brain biopsy and autopsy specimens demonstrated an M2 macrophage polarization and poor phagocytosis of fungal cells. These studies thus expand the paradigm for cryptococcal disease susceptibility to include a prominent role for macrophage activation defects and suggest a spectrum of disease whereby severe neurological disease is characterized by immune-mediated host cell damage.

High rate of subclinical chikungunya virus infection and association of neutralizing antibody with protection in a prospective cohort in the Philippines

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:42am

BACKGROUND: Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a globally re-emerging arbovirus for which previous studies have indicated the majority of infections result in symptomatic febrile illness. We sought to characterize the proportion of subclinical and symptomatic CHIKV infections in a prospective cohort study in a country with known CHIKV circulation.

METHODS/FINDINGS: A prospective longitudinal cohort of subjects > /=6 months old underwent community-based active surveillance for acute febrile illness in Cebu City, Philippines from 2012-13. Subjects with fever history were clinically evaluated at acute, 2, 5, and 8 day visits, and at a 3-week convalescent visit. Blood was collected at the acute and 3-week convalescent visits. Symptomatic CHIKV infections were identified by positive CHIKV PCR in acute blood samples and/or CHIKV IgM/IgG ELISA seroconversion in paired acute/convalescent samples. Enrollment and 12-month blood samples underwent plaque reduction neutralization test (PRNT) using CHIKV attenuated strain 181/clone25. Subclinical CHIKV infections were identified by > /=8-fold rise from a baseline enrollment PRNT titer < 10 without symptomatic infection detected during the intervening surveillance period. Selected CHIKV PCR-positive samples underwent viral isolation and envelope protein-1 gene sequencing. Of 853 subjects who completed all study procedures at 12 months, 19 symptomatic infections (2.19 per 100 person-years) and 87 subclinical infections (10.03 per 100 person-years) occurred. The ratio of subclinical-to-symptomatic infections was 4.6:1 varying with age from 2:1 in 6 month-5 year olds to 12:1 in those > 50 years old. Baseline CHIKV PRNT titer > /=10 was associated with 100% (95%CI: 46.1, 100.0) protection from symptomatic CHIKV infection. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated Asian genotype closely related to strains from Asia and the Caribbean.

CONCLUSIONS: Subclinical infections accounted for a majority of total CHIKV infections. A positive baseline CHIKV PRNT titer was associated with protection from symptomatic CHIKV infection. These findings have implications for assessing disease burden, understanding virus transmission, and supporting vaccine development.

Downregulation of the Host Gene jigr1 by miR-92 Is Essential for Neuroblast Self-Renewal in Drosophila

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:42am

Intragenic microRNAs (miRNAs), located mostly in the introns of protein-coding genes, are often co-expressed with their host mRNAs. However, their functional interaction in development is largely unknown. Here we show that in Drosophila, miR-92a and miR-92b are embedded in the intron and 3'UTR of jigr1, respectively, and co-expressed with some jigr1 isoforms. miR-92a and miR-92b are highly expressed in neuroblasts of larval brain where Jigr1 expression is low. Genetic deletion of both miR-92a and miR-92b demonstrates an essential cell-autonomous role for these miRNAs in maintaining neuroblast self-renewal through inhibiting premature differentiation. We also show that miR-92a and miR-92b directly target jigr1 in vivo and that some phenotypes due to the absence of these miRNAs are partially rescued by reducing the level of jigr1. These results reveal a novel function of the miR-92 family in Drosophila neuroblasts and provide another example that local negative feedback regulation of host genes by intragenic miRNAs is essential for animal development.

Phosphorylation of the Peptidoglycan Synthase PonA1 Governs the Rate of Polar Elongation in Mycobacteria

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:42am

Cell growth and division are required for the progression of bacterial infections. Most rod-shaped bacteria grow by inserting new cell wall along their mid-section. However, mycobacteria, including the human pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis, produce new cell wall material at their poles. How mycobacteria control this different mode of growth is incompletely understood. Here we find that PonA1, a penicillin binding protein (PBP) capable of transglycosylation and transpeptidation of cell wall peptidoglycan (PG), is a major governor of polar growth in mycobacteria. PonA1 is required for growth of Mycobacterium smegmatis and is critical for M. tuberculosis during infection. In both cases, PonA1's catalytic activities are both required for normal cell length, though loss of transglycosylase activity has a more pronounced effect than transpeptidation. Mutations that alter the amount or the activity of PonA1 result in abnormal formation of cell poles and changes in cell length. Moreover, altered PonA1 activity results in dramatic differences in antibiotic susceptibility, suggesting that a balance between the two enzymatic activities of PonA1 is critical for survival. We also find that phosphorylation of a cytoplasmic region of PonA1 is required for normal activity. Mutations in a critical phosphorylated residue affect transglycosylase activity and result in abnormal rates of cell elongation. Together, our data indicate that PonA1 is a central determinant of polar growth in mycobacteria, and its governance of cell elongation is required for robust cell fitness during both host-induced and antibiotic stress.

Connecting Circadian Genes to Neurodegenerative Pathways in Fruit Flies

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:42am

Article introduction: Life expectancy has dramatically increased in recent human history. As a result, neurodegenerative diseases have become a primary health issue. Circadian clocks are found in all mammalian tissues, including neurons and glia, and are, thus, likely to have an impact on the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases. However, the link between circadian clocks and neurodegeneration is poorly understood. ...

Mesoscopic patterns of neural activity support songbird cortical sequences

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 9:42am

Time-locked sequences of neural activity can be found throughout the vertebrate forebrain in various species and behavioral contexts. From "time cells" in the hippocampus of rodents to cortical activity controlling movement, temporal sequence generation is integral to many forms of learned behavior. However, the mechanisms underlying sequence generation are not well known. Here, we describe a spatial and temporal organization of the songbird premotor cortical microcircuit that supports sparse sequences of neural activity. Multi-channel electrophysiology and calcium imaging reveal that neural activity in premotor cortex is correlated with a length scale of 100 microm. Within this length scale, basal-ganglia-projecting excitatory neurons, on average, fire at a specific phase of a local 30 Hz network rhythm. These results show that premotor cortical activity is inhomogeneous in time and space, and that a mesoscopic dynamical pattern underlies the generation of the neural sequences controlling song.

Data from: PTC124 Targets Genetic Disorders Caused by Nonsense Mutations

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 11:35am

Manuscript abstract: Nonsense mutations promote premature translational termination and cause anywhere from 5-70% of the individual cases of most inherited diseases. Studies on nonsense-mediated cystic fibrosis have indicated that boosting specific protein synthesis from less than 1% to as little as 5% of normal levels may greatly reduce the severity or eliminate the principal manifestations of disease. To address the need for a drug capable of suppressing premature termination, we identified PTC124-a new chemical entity that selectively induces ribosomal readthrough of premature but not normal termination codons. PTC124 activity, optimized using nonsense-containing reporters, promoted dystrophin production in primary muscle cells from humans and mdx mice expressing dystrophin nonsense alleles, and rescued striated muscle function in mdx mice within 2-8 weeks of drug exposure. PTC124 was well tolerated in animals at plasma exposures substantially in excess of those required for nonsense suppression. The selectivity of PTC124 for premature termination codons, its well characterized activity profile, oral bioavailability and pharmacological properties indicate that this drug may have broad clinical potential for the treatment of a large group of genetic disorders with limited or no therapeutic options.