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Research advances from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Intramural Research Program (IRP) are often published in high-impact journals. Read some of our recent articles:

Authors: Martinez J, Cunha LD, Park S, Yang M, Lu Q, Orchard R, Li QZ, Yan M, Janke L, Guy C, Linkermann A, Virgin HW, Green DR

Journal: Nature. 2016 May 5;533(7601):115-9. doi: 10.1038/nature17950. Epub 2016 Apr 20.

Defects in clearance of dying cells have been proposed to underlie the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Mice lacking molecules associated with dying cell clearance develop SLE-like disease, and phagocytes from patients with SLE often display defective clearance and increased inflammatory cytokine production when exposed to dying cells in vitro. Previously, we and others described a form of noncanonical autophagy known as LC3-associated phagocytosis (LAP), in which phagosomes containing engulfed particles, including dying cells, recruit elements of the autophagy pathway to facilitate maturation of phagosomes and digestion of their contents. Genome-wide association studies have identified polymorphisms in the Atg5 (ref. 8) and possibly Atg7 (ref. 9) genes, involved in both canonical autophagy and LAP, as markers of a predisposition for SLE. Here we describe the consequences of defective LAP in vivo. Mice lacking any of several components of the LAP pathway show increased serum levels of inflammatory cytokines and autoantibodies, glomerular immune complex deposition, and evidence of kidney damage. When dying cells are injected into LAP-deficient mice, they are engulfed but not efficiently degraded and trigger acute elevation of pro-inflammatory cytokines but not anti-inflammatory interleukin (IL)-10. Repeated injection of dying cells into LAP-deficient, but not LAP-sufficient, mice accelerated the development of SLE-like disease, including increased serum levels of autoantibodies. By contrast, mice deficient in genes required for canonical autophagy but not LAP do not display defective dying cell clearance, inflammatory cytokine production, or SLE-like disease, and, like wild-type mice, produce IL-10 in response to dying cells. Therefore, defects in LAP, rather than canonical autophagy, can cause SLE-like phenomena, and may contribute to the pathogenesis of SLE.

Authors: Joubert BR, Felix JF, Yousefi P, Bakulski KM, Just AC, Breton C, Reese SE, Markunas CA, Richmond RC, Xu CJ, Küpers LK, Oh SS, Hoyo C, Gruzieva O, Söderhäll C, Salas LA, Baïz N, Zhang H, Lepeule J, Ruiz C, Ligthart S, Wang T, Taylor JA, Duijts L, Sharp GC, Jankipersadsing SA, Nilsen RM, Vaez A, Fallin MD, Hu D, Litonjua AA, Fuemmeler BF, Huen K, Kere J, Kull I, Munthe-Kaas MC, Gehring U, Bustamante M, Saurel-Coubizolles MJ, Quraishi BM, Ren J, Tost J, Gonzalez JR, Peters MJ, Håberg SE, Xu Z, van Meurs JB, Gaunt TR, Kerkhof M, Corpeleijn E, Feinberg AP, Eng C, Baccarelli AA, Benjamin Neelon SE, Bradman A, Merid SK, Bergström A, Herceg Z, Hernandez-Vargas H, Brunekreef B, Pinart M, Heude B, Ewart S, Yao J, Lemonnier N, Franco OH, Wu MC, Hofman A, McArdle W, Van der Vlies P, Falahi F, Gillman MW, Barcellos LF, Kumar A, Wickman M, Guerra S, Charles MA, Holloway J, Auffray C, Tiemeier HW, Smith GD, Postma D, Hivert MF, Eskenazi B, Vrijheid M, Arshad H, Antó JM, Dehghan A, Karmaus W, Annesi-Maesano I, Sunyer J, Ghantous A, Pershagen G, Holland N, Murphy SK, DeMeo DL, Burchard EG, Ladd-Acosta C, Snieder H, Nystad W, Koppelman GH, Relton CL, Jaddoe VW, Wilcox A, Melén E, London SJ

JournalAm J Hum Genet. 2016 Apr 7;98(4):680-96. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2016.02.019. Epub 2016 Mar 31.

Epigenetic modifications, including DNA methylation, represent a potential mechanism for environmental impacts on human disease. Maternal smoking in pregnancy remains an important public health problem that impacts child health in a myriad of ways and has potential lifelong consequences. The mechanisms are largely unknown, but epigenetics most likely plays a role. We formed the Pregnancy And Childhood Epigenetics (PACE) consortium and meta-analyzed, across 13 cohorts (n = 6,685), the association between maternal smoking in pregnancy and newborn blood DNA methylation at over 450,000 CpG sites (CpGs) by using the Illumina 450K BeadChip. Over 6,000 CpGs were differentially methylated in relation to maternal smoking at genome-wide statistical significance (false discovery rate, 5%), including 2,965 CpGs corresponding to 2,017 genes not previously related to smoking and methylation in either newborns or adults. Several genes are relevant to diseases that can be caused by maternal smoking (e.g., orofacial clefts and asthma) or adult smoking (e.g., certain cancers). A number of differentially methylated CpGs were associated with gene expression. We observed enrichment in pathways and processes critical to development. In older children (5 cohorts, n = 3,187), 100% of CpGs gave at least nominal levels of significance, far more than expected by chance (p value < 2.2 × 10(-16)). Results were robust to different normalization methods used across studies and cell type adjustment. In this large scale meta-analysis of methylation data, we identified numerous loci involved in response to maternal smoking in pregnancy with persistence into later childhood and provide insights into mechanisms underlying effects of this important exposure.

Authors: Takaku M, Grimm SA, Shimbo T, Perera L, Menafra R, Stunnenberg HG, Archer TK, Machida S, Kurumizaka H, Wade PA

Journal: Genome Biol. 2016 Feb 27;17(1):36. doi: 10.1186/s13059-016-0897-0.

BACKGROUND: Transcription factor-dependent cellular reprogramming is integral to normal development and is central to production of induced pluripotent stem cells. This process typically requires pioneer transcription factors (TFs) to induce de novo formation of enhancers at previously closed chromatin. Mechanistic information on this process is currently sparse.

RESULTS: Here we explore the mechanistic basis by which GATA3 functions as a pioneer TF in a cellular reprogramming event relevant to breast cancer, the mesenchymal to epithelial transition (MET). In some instances, GATA3 binds previously inaccessible chromatin, characterized by stable, positioned nucleosomes where it induces nucleosome eviction, alters local histone modifications, and remodels local chromatin architecture. At other loci, GATA3 binding induces nucleosome sliding without concomitant generation of accessible chromatin. Deletion of the transactivation domain retains the chromatin binding ability of GATA3 but cripples chromatin reprogramming ability, resulting in failure to induce MET.

CONCLUSIONS: These data provide mechanistic insights into GATA3-mediated chromatin reprogramming during MET, and suggest unexpected complexity to TF pioneering. Successful reprogramming requires stable binding to a nucleosomal site; activation domain-dependent recruitment of co-factors including BRG1, the ATPase subunit of the SWI/SNF chromatin remodeling complex; and appropriate genomic context. The resulting model provides a new conceptual framework for de novo enhancer establishment by a pioneer TF.

Authors: Hu J, Stern M, Gimenez LE, Wanka L, Zhu L, Rossi M, Meister J, Inoue A, Beck-Sickinger AG, Gurevich VV, Wess J

Journal: J Biol Chem. 2016 Feb 5. pii: jbc.M115.702282. [Epub ahead of print]

DREADDs (designer receptors exclusively activated by a designer drug) are CNO-sensitive designer G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that have emerged as powerful novel chemogenetic tools to study the physiological relevance of GPCR signaling pathways in specific cell types or tissues. Like endogenous GPCRs, CNO-activated DREADDs do not only activate heterotrimeric G proteins but can also trigger β-arrestin-dependent (G protein-independent) signaling. To dissect the relative physiological relevance of G protein- vs. β-arrestin-mediated signaling in different cell types or physiological processes, the availability of G protein- and β-arrestin-biased DREADDs would be highly desirable. In the present study, we report the development of a mutationally modified version of a non-biased DREADD derived from the M3 muscarinic receptor that can activate Gq/11 with high efficacy but lacks the ability to interact with β-arrestins. We also demonstrate that this novel DREADD is active in vivo and that cell type-selective expression of this new designer receptor can provide novel insights into the physiological roles of G protein (Gq/11)- vs. β-arrestin-dependent signaling (in hepatocytes). Thus, this novel Gq/11-biased DREADD represents a powerful new tool to study the physiological relevance of Gq/11-dependent signaling in distinct tissues and cell types, in the absence of β-arrestin-mediated cellular effects. Such studies should guide the development of novel classes of functionally biased ligands that show high efficacy in various pathophysiological conditions but display a reduced incidence of effects.

Authors: Patial S, Curtis AD, Lai WS, Stumpo DJ, Hill GD, Flake GP, Mannie MD, Blackshear PJ.

JournalProc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Feb 16;113(7):1865-70. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1519906113. Epub 2016 Feb 1.

Tristetraprolin (TTP) is an inducible, tandem zinc-finger mRNA binding protein that binds to adenylate-uridylate-rich elements (AREs) in the 3'-untranslated regions (3'UTRs) of specific mRNAs, such as that encoding TNF, and increases their rates of deadenylation and turnover. Stabilization of Tnf mRNA and other cytokine transcripts in TTP-deficient mice results in the development of a profound, chronic inflammatory syndrome characterized by polyarticular arthritis, dermatitis, myeloid hyperplasia, and autoimmunity. To address the hypothesis that increasing endogenous levels of TTP in an intact animal might be beneficial in the treatment of inflammatory diseases, we generated a mouse model (TTPΔARE) in which a 136-base instability motif in the 3'UTR of TTP mRNA was deleted in the endogenous genetic locus. These mice appeared normal, but cultured fibroblasts and macrophages derived from them exhibited increased stability of the otherwise highly labile TTP mRNA. This resulted in increased TTP protein expression in LPS-stimulated macrophages and increased levels of TTP protein in mouse tissues. TTPΔARE mice were protected from collagen antibody-induced arthritis, exhibited significantly reduced inflammation in imiquimod-induced dermatitis, and were resistant to induction of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, presumably by dampening the excessive production of proinflammatory mediators in all cases. These data suggest that increased systemic levels of TTP, secondary to increased stability of its mRNA throughout the body, can be protective against inflammatory disease in certain models and might be viewed as an attractive therapeutic target for the treatment of human inflammatory diseases.

Authors: Valenstein ML, Roll-Mecak A

JournalCell. 2016 Feb 10. pii: S0092-8674(16)00059-3. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.01.019. [Epub ahead of print]

Microtubule-severing enzymes are critical for the biogenesis and maintenance of complex microtubule arrays in axons, spindles, and cilia where tubulin detyrosination, acetylation, and glutamylation are abundant. These modifications exhibit stereotyped patterns suggesting spatial and temporal control of microtubule functions. Using human-engineered and differentially modified microtubules we find that glutamylation is the main regulator of the hereditary spastic paraplegia microtubule severing enzyme spastin. Glutamylation acts as a rheostat and tunes microtubule severing as a function of glutamate number added per tubulin. Unexpectedly, glutamylation is a non-linear biphasic tuner and becomes inhibitory beyond a threshold. Furthermore, the inhibitory effect of localized glutamylation propagates across neighboring microtubules, modulating severing in trans. Our work provides the first quantitative evidence for a graded response to a tubulin posttranslational modification and a biochemical link between tubulin glutamylation and complex architectures of microtubule arrays such as those in neurons where spastin deficiency causes disease.

Authors: Joubert BR, den Dekker HT, Felix JF, Bohlin J, Ligthart S, Beckett E, Tiemeier H, van Meurs JB, Uitterlinden AG, Hofman A, Håberg SE, Reese SE, Peters MJ, Kulle Andreassen B, Steegers EA, Nilsen RM, Vollset SE, Midttun Ø, Ueland PM, Franco OH, Dehghan A, de Jongste JC, Wu MC, Wang T, Peddada SD, Jaddoe VW, Nystad W, Duijts L, London SJ.

JournalNat Commun. 2016 Feb 10;7:10577. doi: 10.1038/ncomms10577.

Folate is vital for fetal development. Periconceptional folic acid supplementation and food fortification are recommended to prevent neural tube defects. Mechanisms whereby periconceptional folate influences normal development and disease are poorly understood: epigenetics may be involved. We examine the association between maternal plasma folate during pregnancy and epigenome-wide DNA methylation using Illumina's HumanMethyl450 Beadchip in 1,988 newborns from two European cohorts. Here we report the combined covariate-adjusted results using meta-analysis and employ pathway and gene expression analyses. Four-hundred forty-three CpGs (320 genes) are significantly associated with maternal plasma folate levels during pregnancy (false discovery rate 5%); 48 are significant after Bonferroni correction. Most genes are not known for folate biology, including APC2, GRM8, SLC16A12, OPCML, PRPH, LHX1, KLK4 and PRSS21. Some relate to birth defects other than neural tube defects, neurological functions or varied aspects of embryonic development. These findings may inform how maternal folate impacts the developing epigenome and health outcomes in offspring.

Authors: Chen LY, Willis WD, Eddy EM.

JournalProc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Feb 16;113(7):1829-34. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1517994113. Epub 2016 Feb 1.

Spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) are a subpopulation of undifferentiated spermatogonia located in a niche at the base of the seminiferous epithelium delimited by Sertoli cells and peritubular myoid (PM) cells. SSCs self-renew or differentiate into spermatogonia that proliferate to give rise to spermatocytes and maintain spermatogenesis. Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) is essential for this process. Sertoli cells produce GDNF and other growth factors and are commonly thought to be responsible for regulating SSC development, but limited attention has been paid to the role of PM cells in this process. A conditional knockout (cKO) of the androgen receptor gene in PM cells resulted in male infertility. We found that testosterone (T) induces GDNF expression in mouse PM cells in vitro and neonatal spermatogonia (including SSCs) co-cultured with T-treated PM cells were able to colonize testes of germ cell-depleted mice after transplantation. This strongly suggested that T-regulated production of GDNF by PM cells is required for spermatogonial development, but PM cells might produce other factors in vitro that are responsible. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that production of GDNF by PM cells is essential for spermatogonial development by generating mice with a cKO of the Gdnf gene in PM cells. The cKO males sired up to two litters but became infertile due to collapse of spermatogenesis and loss of undifferentiated spermatogonia. These studies show for the first time, to our knowledge, that the production of GDNF by PM cells is essential for undifferentiated spermatogonial cell development in vivo.

Authors: Nakajima K, Cui Z, Li C, Meister J, Cui Y, Fu O, Smith AS, Jain S, Lowell BB, Krashes MJ, Wess J

Journal: Nat Commun. 2016 Jan 8;7:10268. doi: 10.1038/ncomms10268

Agouti-related peptide (AgRP) neurons of the hypothalamus play a key role in regulating food intake and body weight, by releasing three different orexigenic molecules: AgRP; GABA; and neuropeptide Y. AgRP neurons express various G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) with different coupling properties, including Gs-linked GPCRs. At present, the potential role of Gs-coupled GPCRs in regulating the activity of AgRP neurons remains unknown. Here we show that the activation of Gs-coupled receptors expressed by AgRP neurons leads to a robust and sustained increase in food intake. We also provide detailed mechanistic data linking the stimulation of this class of receptors to the observed feeding phenotype. Moreover, we show that this pathway is clearly distinct from other GPCR signalling cascades that are operative in AgRP neurons. Our data suggest that drugs able to inhibit this signalling pathway may become useful for the treatment of obesity.

Authors: Brooks BP, Thompson AH, Sloan JL, Manoli I, Carrillo-Carrasco N, Zein WM, Venditti CP

JournalOphthalmology. 2016 Jan 26. pii: S0161-6420(15)01263-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2015.10.041.

PURPOSE: To explore the ocular manifestations of cobalamin C (cblC) deficiency, an inborn error of intracellular vitamin B12 metabolism.
DESIGN: Retrospective, observational case series.
PARTICIPANTS:Twenty-five cblC patients underwent clinical and ophthalmic examination at the National Institutes of Health between August 2004 and September 2012. Patient ages ranged from 2 to 27 years at last ophthalmic visit, and follow-up ranged from 0 to 83 months (median, 37 months; range, 13-83 months) over a total of 69 visits.
METHODS: Best-corrected visual acuity, slit-lamp biomicroscopy, dilated fundus examination, wide-field photography, fundus autofluorescence imaging, sedated electroretinography, optical coherence tomography, genetics and metabolite assessment.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Visual acuity and presence and degree of retinal degeneration and optic nerve pallor.
RESULTS: Nystagmus (64%), strabismus (52%), macular degeneration (72%), optic nerve pallor (68%), and vascular changes (64%) were present. c.271dupA (p.R91KfsX14) homozygous patients (n = 14) showed early and extensive macular degeneration. Electroretinography showed that scotopic and photopic responses were reduced and delayed, but were preserved remarkably in some patients despite severe degeneration. Optical coherence tomography images through the central macular lesion of a patient with severe retinal degeneration showed extreme thinning, some preservation of retinal lamination, and nearly complete loss of the outer nuclear layer. Despite hyperhomocysteinemia, no patients exhibited lens dislocation.
CONCLUSIONS: This longitudinal study reports ocular outcomes in the largest group of patients with cblC deficiency systematically examined at a single center over an extended period. Differences in progression and severity of macular degeneration, optic nerve pallor, and vascular attenuation between homozygous c.271dupA (p.R91KfsX14) patients and compound heterozygotes were noted. The pace and chronicity of ophthalmic manifestations lacked strict correlation to metabolic status as measured during visits. Prenatal or early treatment, or both, may have mitigated ocular disease, leading to better functional acuity, but patients still progressed to severe macular degeneration. The effects of prenatal or early treatment, or both, in siblings; the manifestation of severe disease in infancy; the presence of comorbid developmental abnormalities; and the possible laminar structural defect noted in many patients are findings showing that cblC deficiency displays a developmental as well as a degenerative ocular phenotype.