Latest Articles Include:
- Scientific writing 101
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):139 (2010)
Less is more when it comes to writing a good scientific paper. Tell a story in clear, simple language and keep in mind the importance of the 'big picture'.
- Substrate check of γ-secretase
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):140-141 (2010)
γ-secretase cleaves multiple substrates with essential roles from development to neurodegeneration, and its aberrant processing underlies human disorders including Alzheimer's disease (AD). Tian et al. now identify a domain in the β-amyloid precursor protein (APP) that inhibits γ-secretase activity and show that certain familial AD–linked APP mutations within this domain impair this inhibition, resulting in increased β-amyloid generation. The study thus reveals a novel mechanism whereby γ-secretase's activity is influenced by its own substrate.
- Two ways to misregulate mRNAs in myotonic dystrophy
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):141-142 (2010)
Myotonic dystrophy is caused by expanded CTG repeats, and the expression of these repeats as RNA leads to the sequestration of the splicing factor muscleblind-like (MBNL1) to the CUG RNA. Two mouse models for myotonic dystrophy—mice expressing expanded CUG repeats and mice lacking functional MBNL1—now reveal ~100 new mis-splicing events and a new class of aberrantly regulated mRNAs.
- Research highlights
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):143 (2010)
- Allosteric regulation of Argonaute proteins by miRNAs
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):144-150 (2010)
Small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and microRNAs (miRNAs) bind to Argonaute (AGO) family proteins to form a related set of effector complexes that have diverse roles in post-transcriptional gene regulation throughout the eukaryotic lineage. Here sequence and structural analysis of the MID domain of the AGO proteins identified similarities with a family of allosterically regulated bacterial ligand-binding domains. We used in vitro and in vivo approaches to show that certain AGO proteins (those involved in translational repression) have conserved this functional allostery between two distinct sites, one involved in binding miRNA–target duplex and the other in binding the 5′ cap feature (m7GpppG) of eukaryotic mRNAs. This allostery provides an explanation for how miRNA-bound effector complexes may avoid indiscriminate repressive action (mediated through binding interactions with the cap) before full target recognition.
- An APP inhibitory domain containing the Flemish mutation residue modulates γ-secretase activity for Aβ production
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):151-158 (2010)
γ-secretase is an aspartyl protease that cleaves multiple substrates within their transmembrane domains. γ-secretase processes the amyloid precursor protein (APP) to generate γ-amyloid (Aγ) peptides associated with Alzheimer's disease. Here, we show that APP possesses a substrate inhibitory domain (ASID) that negatively modulates γ-secretase activity for Aγ production by binding to an allosteric site within the γ-secretase complex. Alteration of this ASID by deletion or mutation, as is seen with the Flemish mutation (A21G), reduces its inhibitory potency and promotes Aγ production. Notably, peptides derived from ASID show selective inhibition of γ-secretase activity for Aγ production over Notch1 processing. Therefore, this mode of regulation represents an unprecedented mechanism for modulating γ-secretase, providing insight into the molecular basis of Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis and a potential strategy for the development of therapeutics.
- Alda-1 is an agonist and chemical chaperone for the common human aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 variant
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):159-164 (2010)
In approximately one billion people, a point mutation inactivates a key detoxifying enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2). This mitochondrial enzyme metabolizes toxic biogenic and environmental aldehydes, including the endogenously produced 4-hydroxynonenal (4HNE) and the environmental pollutant acrolein, and also bioactivates nitroglycerin. ALDH2 is best known, however, for its role in ethanol metabolism. The accumulation of acetaldehyde following the consumption of even a single alcoholic beverage leads to the Asian alcohol-induced flushing syndrome in ALDH2*2 homozygotes. The ALDH2*2 allele is semidominant, and heterozygotic individuals show a similar but less severe phenotype. We recently identified a small molecule, Alda-1, that activates wild-type ALDH2 and restores near-wild-type activity to ALDH2*2. The structures of Alda-1 bound to ALDH2 and ALDH2*2 reveal how Alda-1 activates the wild-type enzyme and how it restores the activity of ALDH2*2 by acting as a str! uctural chaperone.
- Structural basis for dsRNA recognition and interferon antagonism by Ebola VP35
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):165-172 (2010)
Ebola viral protein 35 (VP35), encoded by the highly pathogenic Ebola virus, facilitates host immune evasion by antagonizing antiviral signaling pathways, including those initiated by RIG-I–like receptors. Here we report the crystal structure of the Ebola VP35 interferon inhibitory domain (IID) bound to short double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), which together with in vivo results reveals how VP35-dsRNA interactions contribute to immune evasion. Conserved basic residues in VP35 IID recognize the dsRNA backbone, whereas the dsRNA blunt ends are 'end-capped' by a pocket of hydrophobic residues that mimic RIG-I–like receptor recognition of blunt-end dsRNA. Residues critical for RNA binding are also important for interferon inhibition in vivo but not for viral polymerase cofactor function of VP35. These results suggest that simultaneous recognition of dsRNA backbone and blunt ends provides a mechanism by which Ebola VP35 antagonizes host dsRNA sensors and immune responses.
- Comprehensive discovery of endogenous Argonaute binding sites in Caenorhabditis elegans
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):173-179 (2010)
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) regulate gene expression by guiding Argonaute proteins to specific target mRNA sequences. Identification of bona fide miRNA target sites in animals is challenging because of uncertainties regarding the base-pairing requirements between miRNA and target as well as the location of functional binding sites within mRNAs. Here we present the results of a comprehensive strategy aimed at isolating endogenous mRNA target sequences bound by the Argonaute protein ALG-1 in C. elegans. Using cross-linking and ALG-1 immunoprecipitation coupled with high-throughput sequencing (CLIP-seq), we identified extensive ALG-1 interactions with specific 3′ untranslated region (UTR) and coding exon sequences and discovered features that distinguish miRNA complex binding sites in 3′ UTRs from those in other genic regions. Furthermore, our analyses revealed a striking enrichment of Argonaute binding sites in genes important for miRNA function, suggesting an autoregulatory ! role that may confer robustness to the miRNA pathway.
- Structural basis for the Rho- and phosphoinositide-dependent localization of the exocyst subunit Sec3
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):180-186 (2010)
The exocyst complex is a hetero-octameric protein complex that functions during cell polarization by tethering the secretory vesicle to the target membrane. The yeast exocyst subunit Sec3 binds to phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PtdIns(4,5)P2) and the small GTPases Rho1 and Cdc42 via its N-terminal domain (Sec3-N), and these interactions target Sec3 to the plasma membrane. Here we report the crystal structure of the Sec3-N in complex with Rho1 at 2.6-Å resolution. Sec3-N adopts a pleckstrin homology (PH) fold, despite having no detectable sequence homology with other PH domains of known structure. Clusters of conserved basic residues constitute a positively charged cleft, which was identified as a binding site for PtdIns(4,5)P2. Residues Phe77, Ile115 and Leu131 of Sec3 bind to an extended hydrophobic surface formed around switch regions I and II of Rho1. To our knowledge, these are the first structural insights into how an exocyst subunit might interact with b! oth protein and phospholipid factors on the target membrane.
- Aberrant alternative splicing and extracellular matrix gene expression in mouse models of myotonic dystrophy
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):187-193 (2010)
The common form of myotonic dystrophy (DM1) is associated with the expression of expanded CTG DNA repeats as RNA (CUGexp RNA). To test whether CUGexp RNA creates a global splicing defect, we compared the skeletal muscle of two mouse models of DM1, one expressing a CTGexp transgene and another homozygous for a defective muscleblind 1 (Mbnl1) gene. Strong correlation in splicing changes for ~100 new Mbnl1-regulated exons indicates that loss of Mbnl1 explains >80% of the splicing pathology due to CUGexp RNA. In contrast, only about half of mRNA-level changes can be attributed to loss of Mbnl1, indicating that CUGexp RNA has Mbnl1-independent effects, particularly on mRNAs for extracellular matrix proteins. We propose that CUGexp RNA causes two separate effects: loss of Mbnl1 function (disrupting splicing) and loss of another function that disrupts extracellular matrix mRNA regulation, possibly mediated by Mbnl2. These findings reveal unanticipated similarities between DM1! and other muscular dystrophies.
- CDK8 is a positive regulator of transcriptional elongation within the serum response network
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):194-201 (2010)
The Mediator complex allows communication between transcription factors and RNA polymerase II (RNAPII). Cyclin-dependent kinase 8 (CDK8), the kinase found in some variants of Mediator, has been characterized mostly as a transcriptional repressor. Recently, CDK8 was demonstrated to be a potent oncoprotein. Here we show, using a human tumor cell line, that CDK8 is a positive regulator of genes within the serum response network, including several members of the activator protein 1 and early growth response family of oncogenic transcription factors. Mechanistic studies show that CDK8 is not required for RNAPII recruitment or promoter escape. Instead, CDK8 depletion leads to the appearance of slower elongation complexes carrying hypophosphorylated RNAPII. CDK8-Mediator regulates precise steps in the assembly of the RNAPII elongation complex, including the recruitment of positive transcription elongation factor b and BRD4. Furthermore, CDK8-Mediator specifically interacts wi! th positive transcription elongation factor b. Thus, we have uncovered a role for CDK8 in transcriptional regulation that may contribute to its oncogenic effects.
- Yeast telomerase subunit Est1p has guanine quadruplex–promoting activity that is required for telomere elongation
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):202-209 (2010)
Telomeres are eukaryotic protein–DNA complexes found at the ends of linear chromosomes that are essential for maintaining genome integrity and are implicated in cellular aging and cancer. The guanine (G)-rich strand of telomeric DNA, usually elongated by the telomerase reverse transcriptase, can form a higher-order structure known as a G-quadruplex in vitro and in vivo. Several factors that promote or resolve G-quadruplexes have been identified, but the functional importance of these structures for telomere maintenance is not well understood. Here we show that the yeast telomerase subunit Est1p, known to be involved in telomerase recruitment to telomeres, can convert single-stranded telomeric G-rich DNA into a G-quadruplex structure in vitro in a Mg2+-dependent manner. Cells carrying Est1p mutants deficient in G-quadruplex formation in vitro showed gradual telomere shortening and cellular senescence, indicating a positive regulatory role for G-quadruplex in the maint! enance of telomere length.
- Crystal structure of an intramolecular chaperone mediating triple–β-helix folding
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):210-215 (2010)
Protein folding is often mediated by molecular chaperones. Recently, a novel class of intramolecular chaperones has been identified in tailspike proteins of evolutionarily distant viruses, which require a C-terminal chaperone for correct folding. The highly homologous chaperone domains are interchangeable between pre-proteins and release themselves after protein folding. Here we report the crystal structures of two intramolecular chaperone domains in either the released or the pre-cleaved form, revealing the role of the chaperone domain in the formation of a triple–β-helix fold. Tentacle-like protrusions enclose the polypeptide chains of the pre-protein during the folding process. After the assembly, a sensory mechanism for correctly folded β-helices triggers a serine-lysine catalytic dyad to autoproteolytically release the mature protein. Sequence analysis shows a conservation of the intramolecular chaperones in functionally unrelated proteins sharing β-helices a! s a common structural motif.
- Human PRP4 kinase is required for stable tri-snRNP association during spliceosomal B complex formation
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):216-221 (2010)
Reversible protein phosphorylation has an essential role during pre-mRNA splicing. Here we identify two previously unidentified phosphoproteins in the human spliceosomal B complex, namely the pre-mRNA processing factors PRP6 and PRP31, both components of the U4/U6−U5 tri-small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (snRNP). We provide evidence that PRP6 and PRP31 are directly phosphorylated by human PRP4 kinase (PRP4K) concomitant with their incorporation into B complexes. Immunodepletion and complementation studies with HeLa splicing extracts revealed that active human PRP4K is required for the phosphorylation of PRP6 and PRP31 and for the assembly of stable, functional B complexes. Thus, the phosphorylation of PRP6 and PRP31 is likely to have a key role during spliceosome assembly. Our data provide new insights into the molecular mechanism by which PRP4K contributes to splicing. They further indicate that numerous phosphorylation events contribute to spliceosome assembly and, t! hus, that splicing can potentially be modulated at multiple regulatory checkpoints.
- APOBEC3 proteins mediate the clearance of foreign DNA from human cells
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):222-229 (2010)
Bacteria evolved restriction endonucleases to prevent interspecies DNA transmission and bacteriophage infection. Here we show that human cells possess an analogous mechanism. APOBEC3A is induced by interferon following DNA detection, and it deaminates foreign double-stranded DNA cytidines to uridines. These atypical DNA nucleosides are converted by the uracil DNA glycosylase UNG2 to abasic lesions, which lead to foreign DNA degradation. This mechanism is evident in cell lines and primary monocytes, where up to 97% of cytidines in foreign DNA are deaminated. In contrast, cellular genomic DNA appears unaffected. Several other APOBEC3s also restrict foreign gene transfer. Related proteins exist in all vertebrates, indicating that foreign DNA restriction may be a conserved innate immune defense mechanism. The efficiency and fidelity of genetic engineering, gene therapy, and DNA vaccination are likely to be influenced by this anti-DNA defense system.
- Molecular determinants of coupling between the domain III voltage sensor and pore of a sodium channel
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):230-237 (2010)
In a voltage-dependent sodium channel, the activation of voltage sensors upon depolarization leads to the opening of the pore gates. To elucidate the principles underlying this conformational coupling, we investigated a putative gating interface in domain III of the sodium channel using voltage-clamp fluorimetry and tryptophan-scanning mutagenesis. Most mutations have similar energetic effects on voltage-sensor activation and pore opening. However, several mutations stabilized the activated voltage sensor while concurrently destabilizing the open pore. When mapped onto a homology model of the sodium channel, most localized to hinge regions of the gating interface. Our analysis shows that these residues are involved in energetic coupling of the voltage sensor to the pore when both are in resting and when both are in activated conformations, supporting the notion that electromechanical coupling in a voltage-dependent ion channel involves the movement of rigid segments co! nnected by elastic hinges.
- Structural insights into the human GW182-PABC interaction in microRNA-mediated deadenylation
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):238-240 (2010)
GW182-family proteins are essential for microRNA-mediated translational repression and deadenylation in animal cells. Here we show that a conserved motif in the human GW182 paralog TNRC6C interacts with the C-terminal domain of polyadenylate binding protein 1 (PABC) and present the crystal structure of the complex. Mutations at the complex interface impair mRNA deadenylation in mammalian cell extracts, suggesting that the GW182-PABC interaction contributes to microRNA-mediated gene silencing.
- Solution structures of the two PBZ domains from human APLF and their interaction with poly(ADP-ribose)
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):241-243 (2010)
Addition of poly(ADP-ribose) (PAR) is an important post-translational modification in higher eukaryotes. Several DNA repair and checkpoint proteins possess specific PAR-binding zinc-finger (PBZ) modules critical for function. Here, we present solution structures of the two PBZ modules of aprataxin and PNK–like factor (APLF), revealing a novel type of zinc finger. By combining in vivo PAR-binding data with NMR interaction data using PAR fragments, we propose a structural basis for PBZ-PAR recognition.
- Nonsense-mediated mRNA decapping occurs on polyribosomes in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):244-247 (2010)
Nonsense-mediated decay (NMD) degrades mRNA containing premature translation termination codons. In yeast, NMD substrates are decapped and digested exonucleolytically from the 5′ end. Despite the requirement for translation in recognition, degradation of nonsense-containing mRNA is considered to occur in ribosome-free cytoplasmic P bodies. We show decapped nonsense-containing mRNA associate with polyribosomes, indicating that recognition and degradation are tightly coupled and that polyribosomes are major sites for degradation of aberrant mRNAs.
- Structural basis of respiratory syncytial virus neutralization by motavizumab
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):248-250 (2010)
Motavizumab is ~tenfold more potent than its predecessor, palivizumab (Synagis), the FDA-approved monoclonal antibody used to prevent respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection. The structure of motavizumab in complex with a 24-residue peptide corresponding to its epitope on the RSV fusion (F) glycoprotein reveals the structural basis for this greater potency. Modeling suggests that motavizumab recognizes a different quaternary configuration of the F glycoprotein than that observed in a homologous structure.
- Schizosaccharomyces pombe genome-wide nucleosome mapping reveals positioning mechanisms distinct from those of Saccharomyces cerevisiae
- Nature structural & molecular biology 17(2):251-257 (2010)
Positioned nucleosomes limit the access of proteins to DNA and implement regulatory features encoded in eukaryotic genomes. Here we have generated the first genome-wide nucleosome positioning map for Schizosaccharomyces pombe and annotated transcription start and termination sites genome wide. Using this resource, we found surprising differences from the previously published nucleosome organization of the distantly related yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. DNA sequence guides nucleosome positioning differently: for example, poly(dA-dT) elements are not enriched in S. pombe nucleosome-depleted regions. Regular nucleosomal arrays emanate more asymmetrically—mainly codirectionally with transcription—from promoter nucleosome-depleted regions, but promoters harboring the histone variant H2A.Z also show regular arrays upstream of these regions. Regular nucleosome phasing in S. pombe has a very short repeat length of 154 base pairs and requires a remodeler, Mit1, that is co! nserved in humans but is not found in S. cerevisiae. Nucleosome positioning mechanisms are evidently not universal but evolutionarily plastic.