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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: Pratto F, Brick K, Khil P, Smagulova F, Petukhova GV, Camerini-Otero RD

Journal: Science. 2014 Nov 14;346(6211):1256442. doi: 10.1126/science.1256442

DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are introduced in meiosis to initiate recombination and generate crossovers, the reciprocal exchanges of genetic material between parental chromosomes. Here, we present high-resolution maps of meiotic DSBs in individual human genomes. Comparing DSB maps between individuals shows that along with DNA binding by PRDM9, additional factors may dictate the efficiency of DSB formation. We find evidence for both GC-biased gene conversion and mutagenesis around meiotic DSB hotspots, while frequent colocalization of DSB hotspots with chromosome rearrangement breakpoints implicates the aberrant repair of meiotic DSBs in genomic disorders. Furthermore, our data indicate that DSB frequency is a major determinant of crossover rate. These maps provide new insights into the regulation of meiotic recombination and the impact of meiotic recombination on genome function.

Authors: Freudenthal BD, Beard WA, Perera L, Shock DD, Kim T, Schlick T, and Wilson SH

Journal: Nature. 2014 Nov 17. doi: 10.1038/nature13886.

Oxidative stress promotes genomic instability and human diseases. A common oxidized nucleoside is 8-oxo-7,8-dihydro-2'-deoxyguanosine, which is found both in DNA (8-oxo-G) and as a free nucleotide (8-oxo-dGTP). Nucleotide pools are especially vulnerable to oxidative damage. Therefore cells encode an enzyme (MutT/MTH1) that removes free oxidized nucleotides. This cleansing function is required for cancer cell survival and to modulate Escherichia coli antibiotic sensitivity in a DNA polymerase (pol)-dependent manner. How polymerases discriminate between damaged and non-damaged nucleotides is not well understood. This analysis is essential given the role of oxidized nucleotides in mutagenesis, cancer therapeutics, and bacterial antibiotics. Even with cellular sanitizing activities, nucleotide pools contain enough 8-oxo-dGTP to promote mutagenesis. This arises from the dual coding potential where 8-oxo-dGTP(anti) base pairs with cytosine and 8-oxo-dGTP(syn) uses its Hoogsteen edge to base pair with adenine. Here we use time-lapse crystallography to follow 8-oxo-dGTP insertion opposite adenine or cytosine with human pol β, to reveal that insertion is accommodated in either the syn- or anti-conformation, respectively. For 8-oxo-dGTP(anti) insertion, a novel divalent metal relieves repulsive interactions between the adducted guanine base and the triphosphate of the oxidized nucleotide. With either templating base, hydrogen-bonding interactions between the bases are lost as the enzyme reopens after catalysis, leading to a cytotoxic nicked DNA repair intermediate. Combining structural snapshots with kinetic and computational analysis reveals how 8-oxo-dGTP uses charge modulation during insertion that can lead to a blocked DNA repair intermediate.

Authors: Memoli MJ, Czajkowski L, Reed S, Athota R, Bristol T, Proudfoot K, Fargis S, Stein M, Dunfee RL, Shaw PA, Davey RT, Taubenberger JK

Journal: Clin Infect Dis. 2014 Nov 20. pii: ciu924. [Epub ahead of print]

BACKGROUND:  Healthy volunteer wild-type influenza challenge models offer a unique opportunity to evaluate multiple aspects of this important virus. Such studies have not been performed in the U.S. in over a decade, limiting our capability to investigate this virus and develop countermeasures. We have completed the first ever wild-type influenza A challenge study under an IND. This dose finding study will lead to further development of this model both for A(H1N1)pdm09 and other strains of influenza.
METHODS:  Volunteers were admitted to an isolation unit at the NIH Clinical Center for a minimum of 9 days. A reverse genetics, cell-based, GMP produced, wild-type A(H1N1)pdm09 virus was administered intranasally. Escalating doses were given until a dose was reached that produced disease in a minimum of 60% of volunteers.
RESULTS:  An optimal dose of 107 TCID50 was reached which caused mild to moderate influenza disease in 69% of individuals with mean viral shedding for 4-5 days and significant rises in convalescent influenza antibody titers. Viral shedding preceded symptoms by 12-24 hours and terminated 2-3 days prior to symptom resolution, indicating that individuals may be infectious before symptom development. As expected nasal congestion and rhinorrhea were most common, but interestingly, fever was observed in only 10%.
CONCLUSION:  This study represents the first healthy volunteer influenza challenge model using a GMP-produced wild-type virus under an IND. This unique clinical research program will facilitate future studies of influenza pathogenesis, animal model validation, and the rapid, efficient, and cost-effective evaluation of efficacy of novel vaccines and therapeutics.

Authors: Young, MT, Sandler, DP, DeRoo, LA, Vedal, S, Kaufman, JD and London, SJ

Journal: Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2014 Oct 15;190(8):914-21. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201403-0525OC


Limited prior data suggest an association between traffic-related air pollution and incident asthma in adults. No published studies assess the effect of long-term exposures to particulate matter less than 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) on adult incident asthma.

To estimate the association between ambient air pollution exposures (PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide, NO2) and development of asthma and incident respiratory symptoms.

The Sister Study is a U.S. cohort study of risk factors for breast cancer and other health outcomes (n = 50,884) in sisters of women with breast cancer (enrollment, 2003-2009). Annual average (2006) ambient PM2.5 and NO2 concentrations were estimated at participants' addresses, using a national land-use/kriging model incorporating roadway information. Outcomes at follow-up (2008-2012) included incident self-reported wheeze, chronic cough, and doctor-diagnosed asthma in women without baseline symptoms.

Adjusted analyses included 254 incident cases of asthma, 1,023 of wheeze, and 1,559 of chronic cough. For an interquartile range (IQR) difference (3.6 μg/m(3)) in estimated PM2.5 exposure, the adjusted odds ratio (aOR) was 1.20 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.99-1.46, P = 0.063) for incident asthma and 1.14 (95% CI = 1.04-1.26, P = 0.008) for incident wheeze. For NO2, there was evidence for an association with incident wheeze (aOR = 1.08, 95% CI = 1.00-1.17, P = 0.048 per IQR of 5.8 ppb). Neither pollutant was significantly associated with incident cough (PM2.5: aOR = 0.95, 95% CI = 0.88-1.03, P = 0.194; NO2: aOR = 1.00, 95% CI = 0.93-1.07, P = 0.939).

Results suggest that PM2.5 exposure increases the risk of developing asthma and that PM2.5 and NO2 increase the risk of developing wheeze, the cardinal symptom of asthma, in adult women.

Authors: Lujan SA, Clausen AR, Clark AB, MacAlpine HK, MacAlpine DM, Malc EP, Mieczkowski PA, Burkholder AB, Fargo DC, Gordenin DA, Kunkel TA

Journal: Genome Res. 2014 Sep 12. pii: gr.178335.114. [Epub ahead of print]

Mutational heterogeneity must be taken into account when reconstructing evolutionary histories, calibrating molecular clocks, and predicting links between genes and disease. Selective pressures and various DNA transactions have been invoked to explain the heterogeneous distribution of genetic variation between species, within populations, and in tissue-specific tumors. To examine relationships between such heterogeneity and variations in leading- and lagging-strand replication fidelity and mismatch repair, we accumulated 40,000 spontaneous mutations in eight diploid yeast strains in the absence of selective pressure. We found that replicase error rates vary by fork direction, coding state, nucleosome proximity, and sequence context. Further, error rates and DNA mismatch repair efficiency both vary by mismatch type, responsible polymerase, replication time, and replication origin proximity. Mutation patterns implicate replication infidelity as one driver of variation in somatic and germ line evolution, suggest mechanisms of mutual modulation of genome stability and composition, and predict future observations in specific cancers.

Authors: Oldfield AJ, Yang P, Conway AE, Cinghu S, Freudenberg JM, Yellaboina S, Jothi R

Journal: Mol Cell. 2014 Sep 4;55(5):708-22. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2014.07.005

Cell type-specific master transcription factors (TFs) play vital roles in defining cell identity and function. However, the roles ubiquitous factors play in the specification of cell identity remain underappreciated. Here we show that the ubiquitous CCAAT-binding NF-Y complex is required for the maintenance of embryonic stem cell (ESC) identity and is an essential component of the core pluripotency network. Genome-wide studies in ESCs and neurons reveal that NF-Y regulates not only genes with housekeeping functions through cell type-invariant promoter-proximal binding, but also genes required for cell identity by binding to cell type-specific enhancers with master TFs. Mechanistically, NF-Y's distinct DNA-binding mode promotes master/pioneer TF binding at enhancers by facilitating a permissive chromatin conformation. Our studies unearth a conceptually unique function for histone-fold domain (HFD) protein NF-Y in promoting chromatin accessibility and suggest that other HFD proteins with analogous structural and DNA-binding properties may function in similar ways.

Authors: Chen J, Liu J

Journal: Nat Commun. 2014 Sep 12;5:4795. doi: 10.1038/ncomms5795

The spindle assembly checkpoint arrests mitotic progression until each kinetochore secures a stable attachment to the spindle. Despite fluctuating noise, this checkpoint remains robust and remarkably sensitive to even a single unattached kinetochore among many attached kinetochores; moreover, the checkpoint is silenced only after the final kinetochore-spindle attachment. Experimental observations have shown that checkpoint components stream from attached kinetochores along microtubules towards spindle poles. Here we incorporate this streaming behaviour into a theoretical model that accounts for the robustness of checkpoint silencing. Poleward streams are integrated at spindle poles, but are diverted by any unattached kinetochore; consequently, accumulation of checkpoint components at spindle poles increases markedly only when every kinetochore is properly attached. This step change robustly triggers checkpoint silencing after, and only after, the final kinetochore-spindle attachment. Our model offers a conceptual framework that highlights the role of spatiotemporal regulation in mitotic spindle checkpoint signalling and fidelity of chromosome segregation.

Authors: Ha HL, Wang H, Pisitkun P, Kim JC, Tassi I, Tang W, Morasso MI, Udey MC, Siebenlist U

Journal: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Aug 4. pii: 201400513. [Epub ahead of print]

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease characterized by abnormal keratinocyte proliferation and differentiation and by an influx of inflammatory cells. The mechanisms underlying psoriasis in humans and in mouse models are poorly understood, although evidence strongly points to crucial contributions of IL-17 cytokines, which signal via the obligatory adaptor CIKS/Act1. Here we identify critical roles of CIKS/Act1-mediated signaling in imiquimod-induced psoriatic inflammation, a mouse model that shares features with the human disease. We found that IL-17 cytokines/CIKS-mediated signaling into keratinocytes is essential for neutrophilic microabscess formation and contributes to hyperproliferation and markedly attenuated differentiation of keratinocytes, at least in part via direct effects. In contrast, IL-17 cytokines/CIKS-mediated signaling into nonkeratinocytes, particularly into dermal fibroblasts, promotes cellular infiltration and, importantly, leads to enhanced the accumulation of IL-17-producing γδT cells in skin, comprising a positive feed-forward mechanism. Thus, CIKS-mediated signaling is central in the development of both dermal and epidermal hallmarks of psoriasis, inducing distinct pathologies via target cell-specific effects. CIKS-mediated signaling represents a potential therapeutic target in psoriasis.

Authors: Tang S, Huang G, Fan W, Chen Y, Ward JM, Xu X, Xu Q, Kang A, McBurney MW, Fargo DC, Hu G, Baumgart-Vogt E, Zhao Y, Li X

Journal: Mol Cell. 2014 Aug 20. pii: S1097-2765(14)00604-2. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2014.07.011. [Epub ahead of print]

Retinoid homeostasis is critical for normal embryonic development. Both the deficiency and excess of these compounds are associated with congenital malformations. Here we demonstrate that SIRT1, the most conserved mammalian NAD+-dependent protein deacetylase, contributes to homeostatic retinoic acid (RA) signaling and modulates mouse embryonic stem cell (mESC) differentiation in part through deacetylation of cellular retinoic acid binding protein II (CRABPII). We show that RA-mediated acetylation of CRABPII at K102 is essential for its nuclear accumulation and subsequent activation of RA signaling. SIRT1 interacts with and deacetylates CRABPII, regulating its subcellular localization. Consequently, SIRT1 deficiency induces hyperacetylation and nuclear accumulation of CRABPII, enhancing RA signaling and accelerating mESC differentiation in response to RA. Consistently, SIRT1 deficiency is associated with elevated RA signaling and development defects in mice. Our findings reveal a molecular mechanism that regulates RA signaling and highlight the importance of SIRT1 in regulation of ESC pluripotency and embryogenesis.

Authors: Warner KD1, Chen MC1, Song W2, Strack RL2, Thorn A3, Jaffrey SR2, Ferré-D'Amaré AR

Journal: Nat Struct Mol Biol. 2014 Aug;21(8):658-63. doi: 10.1038/nsmb.2865

GFP and its derivatives revolutionized the study of proteins. Spinach is a recently reported in vitro-evolved RNA mimic of GFP, which as genetically encoded fusions makes possible live-cell, real-time imaging of biological RNAs without resorting to large RNA-binding protein-GFP fusions. To elucidate the molecular basis of Spinach fluorescence, we solved the cocrystal structure of Spinach bound to its cognate exogenous chromophore, showing that Spinach activates the small molecule by immobilizing it between a base triple, a G-quadruplex and an unpaired G. Mutational and NMR analyses indicate that the G-quadruplex is essential for Spinach fluorescence, is also present in other fluorogenic RNAs and may represent a general strategy for RNAs to induce fluorescence of chromophores. The structure guided the design of a miniaturized 'Baby Spinach', and it provides a foundation for structure-driven design and tuning of fluorescent RNAs.