Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hot off the presses! Jan 25 PLoS Biol

The Jan 25 issue of the PLoS Biol is now up on Pubget (About PLoS Biol): if you're at a subscribing institution, just click the link in the latest link at the home page. (Note you'll only be able to get all the PDFs in the issue if your institution subscribes to Pubget.)

Latest Articles Include:

  • Common Disease: Are Causative Alleles Common or Rare?
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1001009 (2011)
  • Nematodes Go Viral
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1001011 (2011)
  • Synthetic Associations Are Unlikely to Account for Many Common Disease Genome-Wide Association Signals
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000580 (2011)
  • Synthetic Associations Created by Rare Variants Do Not Explain Most GWAS Results
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000579 (2011)
  • The Importance of Synthetic Associations Will Only Be Resolved Empirically
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1001008 (2011)
  • Are We Really Getting Conservation So Badly Wrong?
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1001010 (2011)
  • Using the Game of Mastermind to Teach, Practice, and Discuss Scientific Reasoning Skills
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000578 (2011)
  • Natural and Experimental Infection of Caenorhabditis Nematodes by Novel Viruses Related to Nodaviruses
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000586 (2011)
    An ideal model system to study antiviral immunity and host-pathogen co-evolution would combine a genetically tractable small animal with a virus capable of naturally infecting the host organism. The use of C. elegans as a model to define host-viral interactions has been limited by the lack of viruses known to infect nematodes. From wild isolates of C. elegans and C. briggsae with unusual morphological phenotypes in intestinal cells, we identified two novel RNA viruses distantly related to known nodaviruses, one infecting specifically C. elegans (Orsay virus), the other C. briggsae (Santeuil virus). Bleaching of embryos cured infected cultures demonstrating that the viruses are neither stably integrated in the host genome nor transmitted vertically. 0.2 µm filtrates of the infected cultures could infect cured animals. Infected animals continuously maintained viral infection for 6 mo (∼50 generations), demonstrating that natural cycles of horizontal virus transmission! were faithfully recapitulated in laboratory culture. In addition to infecting the natural C. elegans isolate, Orsay virus readily infected laboratory C. elegans mutants defective in RNAi and yielded higher levels of viral RNA and infection symptoms as compared to infection of the corresponding wild-type N2 strain. These results demonstrated a clear role for RNAi in the defense against this virus. Furthermore, different wild C. elegans isolates displayed differential susceptibility to infection by Orsay virus, thereby affording genetic approaches to defining antiviral loci. This discovery establishes a bona fide viral infection system to explore the natural ecology of nematodes, host-pathogen co-evolution, the evolution of small RNA responses, and innate antiviral mechanisms.
  • A High-Resolution Anatomical Atlas of the Transcriptome in the Mouse Embryo
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000582 (2011)
    Ascertaining when and where genes are expressed is of crucial importance to understanding or predicting the physiological role of genes and proteins and how they interact to form the complex networks that underlie organ development and function. It is, therefore, crucial to determine on a genome-wide level, the spatio-temporal gene expression profiles at cellular resolution. This information is provided by colorimetric RNA in situ hybridization that can elucidate expression of genes in their native context and does so at cellular resolution. We generated what is to our knowledge the first genome-wide transcriptome atlas by RNA in situ hybridization of an entire mammalian organism, the developing mouse at embryonic day 14.5. This digital transcriptome atlas, the Eurexpress atlas (http://www.eurexpress.org), consists of a searchable database of annotated images that can be interactively viewed. We generated anatomy-based expression profiles for over 18,000 coding genes a! nd over 400 microRNAs. We identified 1,002 tissue-specific genes that are a source of novel tissue-specific markers for 37 different anatomical structures. The quality and the resolution of the data revealed novel molecular domains for several developing structures, such as the telencephalon, a novel organization for the hypothalamus, and insight on the Wnt network involved in renal epithelial differentiation during kidney development. The digital transcriptome atlas is a powerful resource to determine co-expression of genes, to identify cell populations and lineages, and to identify functional associations between genes relevant to development and disease.
  • Clusters of Temporal Discordances Reveal Distinct Embryonic Patterning Mechanisms in Drosophila and Anopheles
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000584 (2011)
    Evolutionary innovations can be driven by spatial and temporal changes in gene expression. Several such differences have been documented in the embryos of lower and higher Diptera. One example is the reduction of the ancient extraembryonic envelope composed of amnion and serosa as seen in mosquitoes to the single amnioserosa of fruit flies. We used transcriptional datasets collected during the embryonic development of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, and the malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, to search for whole-genome changes in gene expression underlying differences in their respective embryonic morphologies. We found that many orthologous gene pairs could be clustered based on the presence of coincident discordances in their temporal expression profiles. One such cluster contained genes expressed specifically in the mosquito serosa. As shown previously, this cluster is redeployed later in development at the time of cuticle synthesis. In addition, there is a! striking difference in the temporal expression of a subset of maternal genes. Specifically, maternal transcripts that exhibit a sharp reduction at the time of the maternal-zygotic transition in Drosophila display sustained expression in the Anopheles embryo. We propose that gene clustering by local temporal discordance can be used for the de novo identification of the gene batteries underlying morphological diversity.
  • The Gene Regulatory Cascade Linking Proneural Specification with Differentiation in Drosophila Sensory Neurons
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000568 (2011)
    In neurogenesis, neural cell fate specification is generally triggered by proneural transcription factors. Whilst the role of proneural factors in fate specification is well studied, the link between neural specification and the cellular pathways that ultimately must be activated to construct specialised neurons is usually obscure. High-resolution temporal profiling of gene expression reveals the events downstream of atonal proneural gene function during the development of Drosophila chordotonal (mechanosensory) neurons. Among other findings, this reveals the onset of expression of genes required for construction of the ciliary dendrite, a key specialisation of mechanosensory neurons. We determine that atonal activates this cellular differentiation pathway in several ways. Firstly, atonal directly regulates Rfx, a well-known highly conserved ciliogenesis transcriptional regulator. Unexpectedly, differences in Rfx regulation by proneural factors may underlie variations ! in ciliary dendrite specialisation in different sensory neuronal lineages. In contrast, fd3F encodes a novel forkhead family transcription factor that is exclusively expressed in differentiating chordotonal neurons. fd3F regulates genes required for specialized aspects of chordotonal dendrite physiology. In addition to these intermediate transcriptional regulators, we show that atonal directly regulates a novel gene, dilatory, that is directly associated with ciliogenesis during neuronal differentiation. Our analysis demonstrates how early cell fate specification factors can regulate structural and physiological differentiation of neuronal cell types. It also suggests a model for how subtype differentiation in different neuronal lineages may be regulated by different proneural factors. In addition, it provides a paradigm for how transcriptional regulation may modulate the ciliogenesis pathway to give rise to structurally and functionally specialised ciliary dendrites.
  • Laminar Analysis of Excitatory Local Circuits in Vibrissal Motor and Sensory Cortical Areas
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000572 (2011)
    Rodents move their whiskers to locate and identify objects. Cortical areas involved in vibrissal somatosensation and sensorimotor integration include the vibrissal area of the primary motor cortex (vM1), primary somatosensory cortex (vS1; barrel cortex), and secondary somatosensory cortex (S2). We mapped local excitatory pathways in each area across all cortical layers using glutamate uncaging and laser scanning photostimulation. We analyzed these maps to derive laminar connectivity matrices describing the average strengths of pathways between individual neurons in different layers and between entire cortical layers. In vM1, the strongest projection was L2/3→L5. In vS1, strong projections were L2/3→L5 and L4→L3. L6 input and output were weak in both areas. In S2, L2/3→L5 exceeded the strength of the ascending L4→L3 projection, and local input to L6 was prominent. The most conserved pathways were L2/3→L5, and the most variable were L4→L2/3 and pathways inv! olving L6. Local excitatory circuits in different cortical areas are organized around a prominent descending pathway from L2/3→L5, suggesting that sensory cortices are elaborations on a basic motor cortex-like plan.
  • Epigenetic Regulation of Learning and Memory by Drosophila EHMT/G9a
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000569 (2011)
    The epigenetic modification of chromatin structure and its effect on complex neuronal processes like learning and memory is an emerging field in neuroscience. However, little is known about the "writers" of the neuronal epigenome and how they lay down the basis for proper cognition. Here, we have dissected the neuronal function of the Drosophila euchromatin histone methyltransferase (EHMT), a member of a conserved protein family that methylates histone 3 at lysine 9 (H3K9). EHMT is widely expressed in the nervous system and other tissues, yet EHMT mutant flies are viable. Neurodevelopmental and behavioral analyses identified EHMT as a regulator of peripheral dendrite development, larval locomotor behavior, non-associative learning, and courtship memory. The requirement for EHMT in memory was mapped to 7B-Gal4 positive cells, which are, in adult brains, predominantly mushroom body neurons. Moreover, memory was restored by EHMT re-expression during adulthood, indicat! ing that cognitive defects are reversible in EHMT mutants. To uncover the underlying molecular mechanisms, we generated genome-wide H3K9 dimethylation profiles by ChIP-seq. Loss of H3K9 dimethylation in EHMT mutants occurs at 5% of the euchromatic genome and is enriched at the 5′ and 3′ ends of distinct classes of genes that control neuronal and behavioral processes that are corrupted in EHMT mutants. Our study identifies Drosophila EHMT as a key regulator of cognition that orchestrates an epigenetic program featuring classic learning and memory genes. Our findings are relevant to the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying Kleefstra Syndrome, a severe form of intellectual disability caused by mutations in human EHMT1, and have potential therapeutic implications. Our work thus provides novel insights into the epigenetic control of cognition in health and disease.
  • Lipoprotein Receptor LRP1 Regulates Leptin Signaling and Energy Homeostasis in the Adult Central Nervous System
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000575 (2011)
    Obesity is a growing epidemic characterized by excess fat storage in adipocytes. Although lipoprotein receptors play important roles in lipid uptake, their role in controlling food intake and obesity is not known. Here we show that the lipoprotein receptor LRP1 regulates leptin signaling and energy homeostasis. Conditional deletion of the Lrp1 gene in the brain resulted in an obese phenotype characterized by increased food intake, decreased energy consumption, and decreased leptin signaling. LRP1 directly binds to leptin and the leptin receptor complex and is required for leptin receptor phosphorylation and Stat3 activation. We further showed that deletion of the Lrp1 gene specifically in the hypothalamus by Cre lentivirus injection is sufficient to trigger accelerated weight gain. Together, our results demonstrate that the lipoprotein receptor LRP1, which is critical in lipid metabolism, also regulates food intake and energy homeostasis in the adult central nervous sy! stem.
  • Evidence of Activity-Specific, Radial Organization of Mitotic Chromosomes in Drosophila
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000574 (2011)
    The organization and the mechanisms of condensation of mitotic chromosomes remain unsolved despite many decades of efforts. The lack of resolution, tight compaction, and the absence of function-specific chromatin labels have been the key technical obstacles. The correlation between DNA sequence composition and its contribution to the chromosome-scale structure has been suggested before; it is unclear though if all DNA sequences equally participate in intra- or inter-chromatin or DNA-protein interactions that lead to formation of mitotic chromosomes and if their mitotic positions are reproduced radially. Using high-resolution fluorescence microscopy of live or minimally perturbed, fixed chromosomes in Drosophila embryonic cultures or tissues expressing MSL3-GFP fusion protein, we studied positioning of specific MSL3-binding sites. Actively transcribed, dosage compensated Drosophila genes are distributed along the euchromatic arm of the male X chromosome. Several novel f! eatures of mitotic chromosomes have been observed. MSL3-GFP is always found at the periphery of mitotic chromosomes, suggesting that active, dosage compensated genes are also found at the periphery of mitotic chromosomes. Furthermore, radial distribution of chromatin loci on mitotic chromosomes was found to be correlated with their functional activity as judged by core histone modifications. Histone modifications specific to active chromatin were found peripheral with respect to silent chromatin. MSL3-GFP-labeled chromatin loci become peripheral starting in late prophase. In early prophase, dosage compensated chromatin regions traverse the entire width of chromosomes. These findings suggest large-scale internal rearrangements within chromosomes during the prophase condensation step, arguing against consecutive coiling models. Our results suggest that the organization of mitotic chromosomes is reproducible not only longitudinally, as demonstrated by chromosome-specific bandi! ng patterns, but also radially. Specific MSL3-binding sites, t! he majority of which have been demonstrated earlier to be dosage compensated DNA sequences, located on the X chromosomes, and actively transcribed in interphase, are positioned at the periphery of mitotic chromosomes. This potentially describes a connection between the DNA/protein content of chromatin loci and their contribution to mitotic chromosome structure. Live high-resolution observations of consecutive condensation states in MSL3-GFP expressing cells could provide additional details regarding the condensation mechanisms.
  • Analysis of LhcSR3, a Protein Essential for Feedback De-Excitation in the Green Alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000577 (2011)
    In photosynthetic organisms, feedback dissipation of excess absorbed light energy balances harvesting of light with metabolic energy consumption. This mechanism prevents photodamage caused by reactive oxygen species produced by the reaction of chlorophyll (Chl) triplet states with O2. Plants have been found to perform the heat dissipation in specific proteins, binding Chls and carotenoids (Cars), that belong to the Lhc family, while triggering of the process is performed by the PsbS subunit, needed for lumenal pH detection. PsbS is not found in algae, suggesting important differences in energy-dependent quenching (qE) machinery. Consistent with this suggestion, a different Lhc-like gene product, called LhcSR3 (formerly known as LI818) has been found to be essential for qE in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. In this work, we report the production of two recombinant LhcSR isoforms from C. reinhardtii and their biochemical and spectroscopic characterization. We found the follow! ing: (i) LhcSR isoforms are Chl a/b– and xanthophyll-binding proteins, contrary to higher plant PsbS; (ii) the LhcSR3 isoform, accumulating in high light, is a strong quencher of Chl excited states, exhibiting a very fast fluorescence decay, with lifetimes below 100 ps, capable of dissipating excitation energy from neighbor antenna proteins; (iii) the LhcSR3 isoform is highly active in the transient formation of Car radical cation, a species proposed to act as a quencher in the heat dissipation process. Remarkably, the radical cation signal is detected at wavelengths corresponding to the Car lutein, rather than to zeaxanthin, implying that the latter, predominant in plants, is not essential; (iv) LhcSR3 is responsive to low pH, the trigger of non-photochemical quenching, since it binds the non-photochemical quenching inhibitor dicyclohexylcarbodiimide, and increases its energy dissipation properties upon acidification. This is the first report of an isolated Lhc protein c! onstitutively active in energy dissipation in its purified for! m, opening the way to detailed molecular analysis. Owing to its protonatable residues and constitutive excitation energy dissipation, this protein appears to merge both pH-sensing and energy-quenching functions, accomplished respectively by PsbS and monomeric Lhcb proteins in plants.
  • The In Vivo Kinetics of RNA Polymerase II Elongation during Co-Transcriptional Splicing
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000573 (2011)
    RNA processing events that take place on the transcribed pre-mRNA include capping, splicing, editing, 3′ processing, and polyadenylation. Most of these processes occur co-transcriptionally while the RNA polymerase II (Pol II) enzyme is engaged in transcriptional elongation. How Pol II elongation rates are influenced by splicing is not well understood. We generated a family of inducible gene constructs containing increasing numbers of introns and exons, which were stably integrated in human cells to serve as actively transcribing gene loci. By monitoring the association of the transcription and splicing machineries on these genes in vivo, we showed that only U1 snRNP localized to the intronless gene, consistent with a splicing-independent role for U1 snRNP in transcription. In contrast, all snRNPs accumulated on intron-containing genes, and increasing the number of introns increased the amount of spliceosome components recruited. This indicates that nascent RNA can as! semble multiple spliceosomes simultaneously. Kinetic measurements of Pol II elongation in vivo, Pol II ChIP, as well as use of Spliceostatin and Meayamycin splicing inhibitors showed that polymerase elongation rates were uncoupled from ongoing splicing. This study shows that transcription elongation kinetics proceed independently of splicing at the model genes studied here. Surprisingly, retention of polyadenylated mRNA was detected at the transcription site after transcription termination. This suggests that the polymerase is released from chromatin prior to the completion of splicing, and the pre-mRNA is post-transcriptionally processed while still tethered to chromatin near the gene end.
  • SecM-Stalled Ribosomes Adopt an Altered Geometry at the Peptidyl Transferase Center
    - PLoS Biol 9(1):e1000581 (2011)
    As nascent polypeptide chains are synthesized, they pass through a tunnel in the large ribosomal subunit. Interaction between specific nascent chains and the ribosomal tunnel is used to induce translational stalling for the regulation of gene expression. One well-characterized example is the Escherichia coli SecM (secretion monitor) gene product, which induces stalling to up-regulate translation initiation of the downstream secA gene, which is needed for protein export. Although many of the key components of SecM and the ribosomal tunnel have been identified, understanding of the mechanism by which the peptidyl transferase center of the ribosome is inactivated has been lacking. Here we present a cryo-electron microscopy reconstruction of a SecM-stalled ribosome nascent chain complex at 5.6 Å. While no cascade of rRNA conformational changes is evident, this structure reveals the direct interaction between critical residues of SecM and the ribosomal tunnel. Moreover, a ! shift in the position of the tRNA–nascent peptide linkage of the SecM-tRNA provides a rationale for peptidyl transferase center silencing, conditional on the simultaneous presence of a Pro-tRNAPro in the ribosomal A-site. These results suggest a distinct allosteric mechanism of regulating translational elongation by the SecM stalling peptide.

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