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Recent documents in eScholarship@UMMS
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Drosophila learn opposing components of a compound food stimulus

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 3:36pm

Dopaminergic neurons provide value signals in mammals and insects. During Drosophila olfactory learning, distinct subsets of dopaminergic neurons appear to assign either positive or negative value to odor representations in mushroom body neurons. However, it is not known how flies evaluate substances that have mixed valence. Here we show that flies form short-lived aversive olfactory memories when trained with odors and sugars that are contaminated with the common insect repellent DEET. This DEET-aversive learning required the MB-MP1 dopaminergic neurons that are also required for shock learning. Moreover, differential conditioning with DEET versus shock suggests that formation of these distinct aversive olfactory memories relies on a common negatively reinforcing dopaminergic mechanism. Surprisingly, as time passed after training, the behavior of DEET-sugar-trained flies reversed from conditioned odor avoidance into odor approach. In addition, flies that were compromised for reward learning exhibited a more robust and longer-lived aversive-DEET memory. These data demonstrate that flies independently process the DEET and sugar components to form parallel aversive and appetitive olfactory memories, with distinct kinetics, that compete to guide learned behavior.

Pediatric Oncology Principles

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 2:15pm

This chapter in Cancer Concepts: A Guidebook for the Non-Oncologist presents an overview of childhood cancer, including the incidence, distribution, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship.

Implementing Wellness into Mental Health and Addiction Recovery: The Addressing Wellness Through Organizational Change (AWTOC) Approach

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 9:31am

There are many opportunities for clinicians and leaders in mental health and addiction treatment programs to champion more discussion about wellness and integrate evidence-based treatments that can decrease patient morbidity and mortality. However, many clinicians and staff may not feel trained and prepared to help individuals adequately address wellness goals, to integrate wellness into their routine clinical practice, or to make appropriate referrals to community resources. To address this service and training gap, the UMass Department of Psychiatry developed the Addressing Wellness Through Organization Change (AWTOC) approach, based upon the Addressing Problems Through Organizational Change (APTOC) model developed by Douglas Ziedonis, M.D., M.P.H. which has been used previously to address tobacco cessation (Ziedonis et al., 2007).

Biodistribution and function of extracellular miRNA-155 in mice

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 3:20pm

Circulating miRNAs can be found in extracellular vesicles (EV) and could be involved in intercellular communication. Here, we report the biodistribution of EV associated miR-155 using miR-155 KO mouse model. Administration of exosomes loaded with synthetic miR-155 mimic into miR-155 KO mice resulted in a rapid accumulation and clearance of miR-155 in the plasma with subsequent distribution in the liver, adipose tissue, lung, muscle and kidney (highest to lowest, respectively). miR-155 expression was detected in isolated hepatocytes and liver mononuclear cells of recipient KO mice suggesting its cellular uptake. In vitro, exosome-mediated restoration of miR-155 in Kupffer cells from miR-155 deficient mice augmented their LPS-induced MCP1 mRNA increase. The systemic delivery of wild type plasma to miR-155 KO mice also resulted in a rapid accumulation of miR-155 in the circulation and distribution to the liver and adipose tissue. In summary, our results demonstrate tissue biodistribution and biologic function of EV-associated miR-155.

Robust Distal Tip Cell Pathfinding in the Face of Temperature Stress Is Ensured by Two Conserved microRNAS in Caenorhabditis elegans

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 3:20pm

Biological robustness, the ability of an organism to maintain a steady-state output as genetic or environmental inputs change, is critical for proper development. MicroRNAs have been implicated in biological robustness mechanisms through their post-transcriptional regulation of genes and gene networks. Previous research has illustrated examples of microRNAs promoting robustness as part of feedback loops and genetic switches and by buffering noisy gene expression resulting from environmental and/or internal changes. Here we show that the evolutionarily conserved microRNAs mir-34 and mir-83 (homolog of mammalian mir-29) contribute to the robust migration pattern of the distal tip cells in Caenorhabditis elegans by specifically protecting against stress from temperature changes. Furthermore, our results indicate that mir-34 and mir-83 may modulate the integrin signaling involved in distal tip cell migration by potentially targeting the GTPase cdc-42 and the beta-integrin pat-3. Our findings suggest a role for mir-34 and mir-83 in integrin-controlled cell migrations that may be conserved through higher organisms. They also provide yet another example of microRNA-based developmental robustness in response to a specific environmental stress, rapid temperature fluctuations.

Caenorhabditis elegans ALG-1 antimorphic mutations uncover functions for Argonaute in microRNA guide strand selection and passenger strand disposal

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 3:20pm

MicroRNAs are regulators of gene expression whose functions are critical for normal development and physiology. We have previously characterized mutations in a Caenorhabditis elegans microRNA-specific Argonaute ALG-1 (Argonaute-like gene) that are antimorphic [alg-1(anti)]. alg-1(anti) mutants have dramatically stronger microRNA-related phenotypes than animals with a complete loss of ALG-1. ALG-1(anti) miRISC (microRNA induced silencing complex) fails to undergo a functional transition from microRNA processing to target repression. To better understand this transition, we characterized the small RNA and protein populations associated with ALG-1(anti) complexes in vivo. We extensively characterized proteins associated with wild-type and mutant ALG-1 and found that the mutant ALG-1(anti) protein fails to interact with numerous miRISC cofactors, including proteins known to be necessary for target repression. In addition, alg-1(anti) mutants dramatically overaccumulated microRNA* (passenger) strands, and immunoprecipitated ALG-1(anti) complexes contained nonstoichiometric yields of mature microRNA and microRNA* strands, with some microRNA* strands present in the ALG-1(anti) Argonaute far in excess of the corresponding mature microRNAs. We show complex and microRNA-specific defects in microRNA strand selection and microRNA* strand disposal. For certain microRNAs (for example mir-58), microRNA guide strand selection by ALG-1(anti) appeared normal, but microRNA* strand release was inefficient. For other microRNAs (such as mir-2), both the microRNA and microRNA* strands were selected as guide by ALG-1(anti), indicating a defect in normal specificity of the strand choice. Our results suggest that wild-type ALG-1 complexes recognize structural features of particular microRNAs in the context of conducting the strand selection and microRNA* ejection steps of miRISC maturation.

Colorectal Cancer

Wed, 09/30/2015 - 8:35am

This chapter in Cancer Concepts: A Guidebook for the Non-Oncologist presents an overview of colorectal cancer, including etiology, screening, pathology, staging, and treatment.

Functions of FUS/TLS from DNA repair to stress response: implications for ALS

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 8:53am

Fused in sarcoma/translocated in liposarcoma (FUS/TLS or FUS) is a multifunctional DNA-/RNA-binding protein that is involved in a variety of cellular functions including transcription, protein translation, RNA splicing, and transport. FUS was initially identified as a fusion oncoprotein, and thus, the early literature focused on the role of FUS in cancer. With the recent discoveries revealing the role of FUS in neurodegenerative diseases, namely amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal lobar degeneration, there has been a renewed interest in elucidating the normal functions of FUS. It is not clear which, if any, endogenous functions of FUS are involved in disease pathogenesis. Here, we review what is currently known regarding the normal functions of FUS with an emphasis on DNA damage repair, RNA processing, and cellular stress response. Further, we discuss how ALS-causing mutations can potentially alter the role of FUS in these pathways, thereby contributing to disease pathogenesis.

Bisulfighter: accurate detection of methylated cytosines and differentially methylated regions

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 11:31am

Analysis of bisulfite sequencing data usually requires two tasks: to call methylated cytosines (mCs) in a sample, and to detect differentially methylated regions (DMRs) between paired samples. Although numerous tools have been proposed for mC calling, methods for DMR detection have been largely limited. Here, we present Bisulfighter, a new software package for detecting mCs and DMRs from bisulfite sequencing data. Bisulfighter combines the LAST alignment tool for mC calling, and a novel framework for DMR detection based on hidden Markov models (HMMs). Unlike previous attempts that depend on empirical parameters, Bisulfighter can use the expectation-maximization algorithm for HMMs to adjust parameters for each data set. We conduct extensive experiments in which accuracy of mC calling and DMR detection is evaluated on simulated data with various mC contexts, read qualities, sequencing depths and DMR lengths, as well as on real data from a wide range of biological processes. We demonstrate that Bisulfighter consistently achieves better accuracy than other published tools, providing greater sensitivity for mCs with fewer false positives, more precise estimates of mC levels, more exact locations of DMRs and better agreement of DMRs with gene expression and DNase I hypersensitivity. The source code is available at

Comprehensive identification of host modulators of HIV-1 replication using multiple orthologous RNAi reagents

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 11:31am

RNAi screens have implicated hundreds of host proteins as HIV-1 dependency factors (HDFs). While informative, these early studies overlap poorly due to false positives and false negatives. To ameliorate these issues, we combined information from the existing HDF screens together with new screens performed with multiple orthologous RNAi reagents (MORR). In addition to being traditionally validated, the MORR screens and the historical HDF screens were quantitatively integrated by the adaptation of an established analysis program, RIGER, for the collective interpretation of each gene's phenotypic significance. False positives were addressed by the removal of poorly expressed candidates through gene expression filtering, as well as with GESS, which identifies off-target effects. This workflow produced a quantitatively integrated network of genes that modulate HIV-1 replication. We further investigated the roles of GOLGI49, SEC13, and COG in HIV-1 replication. Collectively, the MORR-RIGER method minimized the caveats of RNAi screening and improved our understanding of HIV-1-host cell interactions.

Transcription restores DNA repair to heterochromatin, determining regional mutation rates in cancer genomes

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 11:31am

Somatic mutations in cancer are more frequent in heterochromatic and late-replicating regions of the genome. We report that regional disparities in mutation density are virtually abolished within transcriptionally silent genomic regions of cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas (cSCCs) arising in an XPC(-/-) background. XPC(-/-) cells lack global genome nucleotide excision repair (GG-NER), thus establishing differential access of DNA repair machinery within chromatin-rich regions of the genome as the primary cause for the regional disparity. Strikingly, we find that increasing levels of transcription reduce mutation prevalence on both strands of gene bodies embedded within H3K9me3-dense regions, and only to those levels observed in H3K9me3-sparse regions, also in an XPC-dependent manner. Therefore, transcription appears to reduce mutation prevalence specifically by relieving the constraints imposed by chromatin structure on DNA repair. We model this relationship among transcription, chromatin state, and DNA repair, revealing a new, personalized determinant of cancer risk.

Optimization of transcription factor binding map accuracy utilizing knockout-mouse models

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 11:31am

Genome-wide assessment of protein-DNA interaction by chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by massive parallel sequencing (ChIP-seq) is a key technology for studying transcription factor (TF) localization and regulation of gene expression. Signal-to-noise-ratio and signal specificity in ChIP-seq studies depend on many variables, including antibody affinity and specificity. Thus far, efforts to improve antibody reagents for ChIP-seq experiments have focused mainly on generating higher quality antibodies. Here we introduce KOIN (knockout implemented normalization) as a novel strategy to increase signal specificity and reduce noise by using TF knockout mice as a critical control for ChIP-seq data experiments. Additionally, KOIN can identify 'hyper ChIPable regions' as another source of false-positive signals. As the use of the KOIN algorithm reduces false-positive results and thereby prevents misinterpretation of ChIP-seq data, it should be considered as the gold standard for future ChIP-seq analyses, particularly when developing ChIP-assays with novel antibody reagents.

Distal and Proximal Religiosity as Protective Factors for Adolescent and Emerging Adult Alcohol Use

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 11:31am

Data from emerging adults (ages 18-29, N = 900) in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Study was used to examine the influence of childhood and emerging adult religiosity and religious-based decision-making, and childhood adversity, on alcohol use. Childhood religiosity was protective against early alcohol use and progression to later abuse or dependence, but did not significantly offset the influence of childhood adversity on early patterns of heavy drinking in adjusted logistic regression models. Religiosity in emerging adulthood was negatively associated with alcohol use disorders. Protective associations for religiosity varied by gender, ethnicity and childhood adversity histories. Higher religiosity may be protective against early onset alcohol use and later development of alcohol problems, thus, should be considered in prevention programming for youth, particularly in faith-based settings. Mental health providers should allow for integration of clients' religiosity and spirituality beliefs and practices in treatment settings if clients indicate such interest.

Sequence-dependent off-target inhibition of TLR7/8 sensing by synthetic microRNA inhibitors

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 11:31am

Anti-microRNA (miRNA) oligonucleotides (AMOs) with 2'-O-Methyl (2'OMe) residues are commonly used to study miRNA function and can achieve high potency, with low cytotoxicity. Not withstanding this, we demonstrate the sequence-dependent capacity of 2'OMe AMOs to inhibit Toll-like receptor (TLR) 7 and 8 sensing of immunostimulatory RNA, independent of their miRNA-targeting function. Through a screen of 29 AMOs targeting common miRNAs, we found a subset of sequences highly inhibitory to TLR7 sensing in mouse macrophages. Interspecies conservation of this inhibitory activity was confirmed on TLR7/8 activity in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Significantly, we identified a core motif governing the inhibitory activity of these AMOs, which is present in more than 50 AMOs targeted to human miRNAs in miRBaseV20. DNA/locked nucleic acids (LNA) AMOs synthesized with a phosphorothioate backbone also inhibited TLR7 sensing in a sequence-dependent manner, demonstrating that the off-target effects of AMOs are not restricted to 2'OMe modification. Taken together, our work establishes the potential for off-target effects of AMOs on TLR7/8 function, which should be taken into account in their therapeutic development and in vivo application.

The Antioxidant Activity and Their Major Antioxidant Compounds from Acanthopanax senticosus and A. koreanum

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 11:31am

The antioxidant activity and chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid contents were investigated from different parts of Acanthopanax senticosus and A. koreanum. Antioxidant activity was assessed by various in vitro assays such as DPPH, ABTS, FRAP, reducing power assays and ORAC, and the chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid were validated by HPLC chromatography. Among the various extracts, the fruit extracts of A. senticosus and A. koreanum exhibited strongest antioxidant activities including ABTS, FRAP, reducing power and ORAC, however, strongest DPPH radical scavenging activity was observed from the leaf extract of A. senticosus. In addition, the antioxidant activities of various extracts were correlated with total phenolic and proanthocyanidin contents. The major phenolic contents from various parts of these plants observed that leaf extract of A. senticosus expressed higher levels of chlorogenic acid (14.86 mg/dry weigh g) and caffeic acid (3.09 mg/dry weigh g) than other parts. Therefore, these results suggest that the leaf of A. senticosus may be an excellent natural source for functional foods and pharmaceutical agents, and the validated method was useful for the quality control of A. senticosus.

Local sequence assembly reveals a high-resolution profile of somatic structural variations in 97 cancer genomes

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 11:31am

Genomic structural variations (SVs) are pervasive in many types of cancers. Characterizing their underlying mechanisms and potential molecular consequences is crucial for understanding the basic biology of tumorigenesis. Here, we engineered a local assembly-based algorithm (laSV) that detects SVs with high accuracy from paired-end high-throughput genomic sequencing data and pinpoints their breakpoints at single base-pair resolution. By applying laSV to 97 tumor-normal paired genomic sequencing datasets across six cancer types produced by The Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network, we discovered that non-allelic homologous recombination is the primary mechanism for generating somatic SVs in acute myeloid leukemia. This finding contrasts with results for the other five types of solid tumors, in which non-homologous end joining and microhomology end joining are the predominant mechanisms. We also found that the genes recursively mutated by single nucleotide alterations differed from the genes recursively mutated by SVs, suggesting that these two types of genetic alterations play different roles during cancer progression. We further characterized how the gene structures of the oncogene JAK1 and the tumor suppressors KDM6A and RB1 are affected by somatic SVs and discussed the potential functional implications of intergenic SVs.

Identifying, Targeting, and Exploiting a Common Misfolded, Toxic Conformation of SOD1 in ALS: A Dissertation

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 1:35pm

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by a loss of voluntary movement over time, leading to paralysis and death. While 10% of ALS cases are inherited or familial (FALS), the majority of cases (90%) are sporadic (SALS) with unknown etiology. Approximately 20% of FALS cases are genetically linked to a mutation in the anti-oxidizing enzyme, superoxide dismutase (SOD1). SALS and FALS are clinically indistinguishable, suggesting a common pathogenic mechanism exists for both types. Since such a large number of genetic mutations in SOD1 result in FALS (>170), it is reasonable to suspect that non-genetic modifications to SOD1 induce structural perturbations that result in ALS pathology as well. In fact, misfolded SOD1 lacking any genetic mutation was identified in end stage spinal cord tissues of SALS patients using misfolded SOD1-specific antibodies. In addition, this misfolded WT SOD1 found in SALS tissue inhibits axonal transport in vitro, supporting the notion that misfolded WT SOD1 exhibits toxic properties like that of FALS-linked SOD1. Indeed, aberrant post-translational modifications, such as oxidation, cause WT SOD1 to mimic the toxic properties of FALS-linked mutant SOD1. Based on these data, I hypothesize that modified, misfolded forms of WT SOD1 contribute to SALS disease progression in a manner similar to FALS linked mutant SOD1 in FALS. The work presented in this dissertation supports this hypothesis. Specifically, one common misfolded form of SOD1 is defined and exposure of this toxic region is shown to enhance SOD1 toxicity. Preventing exposure, or perhaps stabilization, of this “toxic” region is a potential therapeutic target for a subset of both familial and sporadic ALS patients. Further, the possibility of exploiting this misfolded SOD1 species as a biomarker is explored. For example, an over-oxidized SOD1 species was identified in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from SALS patients that is reduced in controls. Moreover, 2-dimensional gel electrophoresis revealed a more negatively charged species of SOD1 in PBMCs of healthy controls greatly reduced in SALS patients. This species is hypothesized to be involved in the degradation of SOD1, further implicating both misfolded SOD1 and altered protein homeostasis in ALS pathogenesis.

Yeast Upf1 Associates With RibosomesTranslating mRNA Coding Sequences Upstream of Normal Termination Codons: A Dissertation

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 1:35pm

Nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) specifically targets mRNAs with premature translation termination codons for rapid degradation. NMD is a highly conserved translation-dependent mRNA decay pathway, and its core Upf factors are thought to be recruited to prematurely terminating mRNP complexes, possibly through the release factors that orchestrate translation termination. Upf1 is the central regulator of NMD and recent studies have challenged the notion that this protein is specifically targeted to aberrant, nonsense-containing mRNAs. Rather, it has been proposed that Upf1 binds to most mRNAs in a translation-independent manner. In this thesis, I investigated the nature of Upf1 association with its substrates in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Using biochemical and genetic approaches, the basis for Upf1 interaction with ribosomes was evaluated to determine the specificity of Upf1 association with ribosomes, and the extent to which such binding is dependent on prior association of Upf1’s interacting partners. I discovered that Upf1 is specifically associated with Rps26 of the 40S ribosomal subunit, and that this association requires the N-terminal Upf1 CH domain. In addition, using selective ribosome profiling, I investigated when during translation Upf1 associates with ribosomes and showed that Upf1 binding was not limited to polyribosomes that were engaged in translating NMD substrate mRNAs. Rather, Upf1 associated with translating ribosomes on most mRNAs, binding preferentially as ribosomes approached the 3’ ends of open reading frames. Collectively, these studies provide new mechanistic insights into NMD and the dynamics of Upf1 during translation.

Molecular Pathways Mediating Glial Responses during Wallerian Degeneration: A Dissertation

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 1:35pm

Glia are the understudied brain cells that perform many functions essential to maintain nervous system homeostasis and protect the brain from injury. If brain damage occurs, glia rapidly adopt the reactive state and elicit a series of cellular and molecular events known as reactive gliosis, the hallmark of many neurodegenerative diseases. However, the molecular pathways that trigger and regulate this process remain poorly defined. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has glial cells that are strikingly similar to mammalian glia, and which also exhibit reactive responses after neuronal injury. By exploiting its powerful genetic toolbox, we are uniquely positioned to identify the genes that activate and execute glial responses to neuronal injury in vivo. In this dissertation, I use Wallerian degeneration in Drosophila as a model to characterize molecular pathways responsible for glia to recognize neural injury, become activated, and ultimately engulf and degrade axonal debris. I demonstrate a novel role for the GEF (guanine nucleotide exchange factors) complex DRK/DOS/SOS upstream of small GTPase Rac1 in glial engulfment activity and show that it acts redundantly with previously discovered Crk/Mbc/dCed-12 to execute glial activation after axotomy. In addition, I discovered an exciting new role for the TNF receptor associated factor 4 (TRAF4) in glial response to axon injury. I find that interfering with TRAF4 and the downstream kinase misshapen (msn) function results in impaired glial activation and engulfment of axonal debris. Unexpectedly, I find that TRAF4 physically associates with engulfment receptor Draper – making TRAF4 only second factor to bind directly to Draper – and show it is essential for Draper-dependent activation of downstream engulfment signaling, including transcriptional activation of engulfment genes via the JNK and STAT transcriptional cascades. All of these pathways are highly conserved from Drosophila to mammals and most are known to be expressed in mouse brain glia, suggesting functional conservation. My work should therefore serve as an excellent starting point for future investigations regarding their roles in glial activation/reactive gliosis in various pathological conditions of the mammalian central nervous system.

Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy in Elderly Patients with Intermediate Thickness Melanoma: A Masters Thesis

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 1:35pm

Background: A landmark study suggested that wide excision of intermediate-thickness melanoma with sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) and subsequent completion lymph node dissection (CLND) for regional disease may improve prognostication and disease-free survival (DFS) compared with those undergoing wide excision alone. However, these benefits were relatively small and not associated with an improvement in disease-specific survival (DSS). It remains unknown if SLNB and subsequent treatments are beneficial in elderly patients who have a decreased overall (OS) due to other causes.

Methods: Adults ≥ 70 years of age, who underwent surgical intervention for intermediate-thickness cutaneous melanoma from 2000-2013 were identified from a prospectively-maintained database. Clinicopathologic variables measured included age, gender, anatomic site, histologic type, tumor thickness, ulceration, receipt and result of SLNB, completion of CLND, OS, and DFS.

Results: Ninety-one patients underwent excision of an intermediate-thickness melanoma. Forty-nine patients (54%) received a SLNB. Seven of these biopsies (14%) were positive, and five patients went on to receive CLND. Five-year OS was 41% in patients who did not receive SLNB and 52% in patients who did receive SLNB (p=0.11). DFS was similar between groups independent of receipt of SLNB.

Conclusion: Among elderly patients with intermediate-thickness melanoma, patients who received SLNB had similar 5-year OS and DFS compared with those who did not receive SLNB. Routine SLNB for intermediate-thickness melanoma patients may not significantly change outcomes for this age group, and clinical decision-making should consider individual patient comorbidities and goals of care.