April 21, 2020  |  

5’UTR-mediated regulation of Ataxin-1 expression.

Expression of mutant Ataxin-1 with an abnormally expanded polyglutamine domain is necessary for the onset and progression of spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1). Understanding how Ataxin-1 expression is regulated in the human brain could inspire novel molecular therapies for this fatal, dominantly inherited neurodegenerative disease. Previous studies have shown that the ATXN1 3’UTR plays a key role in regulating the Ataxin-1 cellular pool via diverse post-transcriptional mechanisms. Here we show that elements within the ATXN1 5’UTR also participate in the regulation of Ataxin-1 expression. PCR and PacBio sequencing analysis of cDNA obtained from control and SCA1 human brain samples revealed the presence of three major, alternatively spliced ATXN1 5’UTR variants. In cell-based assays, fusion of these variants upstream of an EGFP reporter construct revealed significant and differential impacts on total EGFP protein output, uncovering a type of genetic rheostat-like function of the ATXN1 5’UTR. We identified ribosomal scanning of upstream AUG codons and increased transcript instability as potential mechanisms of regulation. Importantly, transcript-based analyses revealed significant differences in the expression pattern of ATXN1 5’UTR variants between control and SCA1 cerebellum. Together, the data presented here shed light into a previously unknown role for the ATXN1 5’UTR in the regulation of Ataxin-1 and provide new opportunities for the development of SCA1 therapeutics. Copyright © 2019. Published by Elsevier Inc.


April 21, 2020  |  

Development of CRISPR-Cas systems for genome editing and beyond

The development of clustered regularly interspaced short-palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-Cas systems for genome editing has transformed the way life science research is conducted and holds enormous potential for the treatment of disease as well as for many aspects of biotech- nology. Here, I provide a personal perspective on the development of CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing within the broader context of the field and discuss our work to discover novel Cas effectors and develop them into additional molecular tools. The initial demonstra- tion of Cas9-mediated genome editing launched the development of many other technologies, enabled new lines of biological inquiry, and motivated a deeper examination of natural CRISPR-Cas systems, including the discovery of new types of CRISPR-Cas systems. These new discoveries in turn spurred further technological developments. I review these exciting discoveries and technologies as well as provide an overview of the broad array of applications of these technologies in basic research and in the improvement of human health. It is clear that we are only just beginning to unravel the potential within microbial diversity, and it is quite likely that we will continue to discover other exciting phenomena, some of which it may be possible to repurpose as molecular technologies. The transformation of mysterious natural phenomena to powerful tools, however, takes a collective effort to discover, characterize, and engineer them, and it has been a privilege to join the numerous researchers who have contributed to this transformation of CRISPR-Cas systems.


July 19, 2019  |  

Editing out five Serpina1 paralogs to create a mouse model of genetic emphysema.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease affects 10% of the worldwide population, and the leading genetic cause is a-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency. Due to the complexity of the murine locus, which includes up to six Serpina1 paralogs, no genetic animal model of the disease has been successfully generated until now. Here we create a quintuple Serpina1a-e knockout using CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing. The phenotype recapitulates the human disease phenotype, i.e., absence of hepatic and circulating AAT translates functionally to a reduced capacity to inhibit neutrophil elastase. With age, Serpina1 null mice develop emphysema spontaneously, which can be induced in younger mice by a lipopolysaccharide challenge. This mouse models not only AAT deficiency but also emphysema and is a relevant genetic model and not one based on developmental impairment of alveolarization or elastase administration. We anticipate that this unique model will be highly relevant not only to the preclinical development of therapeutics for AAT deficiency, but also to emphysema and smoking research. Copyright © 2018 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.


July 7, 2019  |  

Retrohoming of a mobile group II intron in human cells suggests how eukaryotes limit group II intron proliferation.

Mobile bacterial group II introns are evolutionary ancestors of spliceosomal introns and retroelements in eukaryotes. They consist of an autocatalytic intron RNA (a “ribozyme”) and an intron-encoded reverse transcriptase, which function together to promote intron integration into new DNA sites by a mechanism termed “retrohoming”. Although mobile group II introns splice and retrohome efficiently in bacteria, all examined thus far function inefficiently in eukaryotes, where their ribozyme activity is limited by low Mg2+ concentrations, and intron-containing transcripts are subject to nonsense-mediated decay (NMD) and translational repression. Here, by using RNA polymerase II to express a humanized group II intron reverse transcriptase and T7 RNA polymerase to express intron transcripts resistant to NMD, we find that simply supplementing culture medium with Mg2+ induces the Lactococcus lactis Ll.LtrB intron to retrohome into plasmid and chromosomal sites, the latter at frequencies up to ~0.1%, in viable HEK-293 cells. Surprisingly, under these conditions, the Ll.LtrB intron reverse transcriptase is required for retrohoming but not for RNA splicing as in bacteria. By using a genetic assay for in vivo selections combined with deep sequencing, we identified intron RNA mutations that enhance retrohoming in human cells, but <4-fold and not without added Mg2+. Further, the selected mutations lie outside the ribozyme catalytic core, which appears not readily modified to function efficiently at low Mg2+ concentrations. Our results reveal differences between group II intron retrohoming in human cells and bacteria and suggest constraints on critical nucleotide residues of the ribozyme core that limit how much group II intron retrohoming in eukaryotes can be enhanced. These findings have implications for group II intron use for gene targeting in eukaryotes and suggest how differences in intracellular Mg2+ concentrations between bacteria and eukarya may have impacted the evolution of introns and gene expression mechanisms.


July 7, 2019  |  

Efficient CNV breakpoint analysis reveals unexpected structural complexity and correlation of dosage-sensitive genes with clinical severity in genomic disorders.

Genomic disorders are the clinical conditions manifested by submicroscopic genomic rearrangements including copy number variants (CNVs). The CNVs can be identified by array-based comparative genomic hybridization (aCGH), the most commonly used technology for molecular diagnostics of genomic disorders. However, clinical aCGH only informs CNVs in the probe-interrogated regions. Neither orientational information nor the resulting genomic rearrangement structure is provided, which is a key to uncovering mutational and pathogenic mechanisms underlying genomic disorders. Long-range polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a traditional approach to obtain CNV breakpoint junction, but this method is inefficient when challenged by structural complexity such as often found at the PLP1 locus in association with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease (PMD). Here we introduced ‘capture and single-molecule real-time sequencing’ (cap-SMRT-seq) and newly developed ‘asymmetry linker-mediated nested PCR walking’ (ALN-walking) for CNV breakpoint sequencing in 49 subjects with PMD-associated CNVs. Remarkably, 29 (94%) of the 31 CNV breakpoint junctions unobtainable by conventional long-range PCR were resolved by cap-SMRT-seq and ALN-walking. Notably, unexpected CNV complexities, including inter-chromosomal rearrangements that cannot be resolved by aCGH, were revealed by efficient breakpoint sequencing. These sequence-based structures of PMD-associated CNVs further support the role of DNA replicative mechanisms in CNV mutagenesis, and facilitate genotype-phenotype correlation studies. Intriguingly, the lengths of gained segments by CNVs are strongly correlated with clinical severity in PMD, potentially reflecting the functional contribution of other dosage-sensitive genes besides PLP1. Our study provides new efficient experimental approaches (especially ALN-walking) for CNV breakpoint sequencing and highlights their importance in uncovering CNV mutagenesis and pathogenesis in genomic disorders.© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com.


July 7, 2019  |  

Genome editing in human pluripotent stem cells: approaches, pitfalls, and solutions.

Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) with knockout or mutant alleles can be generated using custom-engineered nucleases. Transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) and clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-Cas9 nucleases are the most commonly employed technologies for editing hPSC genomes. In this Protocol Review, we provide a brief overview of custom-engineered nucleases in the context of gene editing in hPSCs with a focus on the application of TALENs and CRISPR/Cas9. We will highlight the advantages and disadvantages of each method and discuss theoretical and technical considerations for experimental design. Copyright © 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


July 7, 2019  |  

Moving forward: recent developments for the ferret biomedical research model.

Since the initial report in 1911, the domestic ferret has become an invaluable biomedical research model. While widely recognized for its utility in influenza virus research, ferrets are used for a variety of infectious and noninfectious disease models due to the anatomical, metabolic, and physiological features they share with humans and their susceptibility to many human pathogens. However, there are limitations to the model that must be overcome for maximal utility for the scientific community. Here, we describe important recent advances that will accelerate biomedical research with this animal model. Copyright © 2018 Albrecht et al.


July 7, 2019  |  

Meeting report: mobile genetic elements and genome plasticity 2018

The Mobile Genetic Elements and Genome Plasticity conference was hosted by Keystone Symposia in Santa Fe, NM USA, February 11–15, 2018. The organizers were Marlene Belfort, Evan Eichler, Henry Levin and Lynn Maquat. The goal of this conference was to bring together scientists from around the world to discuss the function of transposable elements and their impact on host species. Central themes of the meeting included recent innovations in genome analysis and the role of mobile DNA in disease and evolution. The conference included 200 scientists who participated in poster presentations, short talks selected from abstracts, and invited talks. A total of 58 talks were organized into eight sessions and two workshops. The topics varied from mechanisms of mobilization, to the structure of genomes and their defense strategies to protect against transposable elements.


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