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Concept: DNA repair


Genome editing tools such as the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-associated system (Cas) have been widely used to modify genes in model systems including animal zygotes and human cells, and hold tremendous promise for both basic research and clinical applications. To date, a serious knowledge gap remains in our understanding of DNA repair mechanisms in human early embryos, and in the efficiency and potential off-target effects of using technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 in human pre-implantation embryos. In this report, we used tripronuclear (3PN) zygotes to further investigate CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing in human cells. We found that CRISPR/Cas9 could effectively cleave the endogenous β-globin gene (HBB). However, the efficiency of homologous recombination directed repair (HDR) of HBB was low and the edited embryos were mosaic. Off-target cleavage was also apparent in these 3PN zygotes as revealed by the T7E1 assay and whole-exome sequencing. Furthermore, the endogenous delta-globin gene (HBD), which is homologous to HBB, competed with exogenous donor oligos to act as the repair template, leading to untoward mutations. Our data also indicated that repair of the HBB locus in these embryos occurred preferentially through the non-crossover HDR pathway. Taken together, our work highlights the pressing need to further improve the fidelity and specificity of the CRISPR/Cas9 platform, a prerequisite for any clinical applications of CRSIPR/Cas9-mediated editing.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Evolution, Chromosome, DNA repair


Plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) has been shown to be a key component of the senescence-related secretome and a direct mediator of cellular senescence. In murine models of accelerated aging, genetic deficiency and targeted inhibition of PAI-1 protect against aging-like pathology and prolong life span. However, the role of PAI-1 in human longevity remains unclear. We hypothesized that a rare loss-of-function mutation in SERPINE1 (c.699_700dupTA), which encodes PAI-1, could play a role in longevity and metabolism in humans. We studied 177 members of the Berne Amish community, which included 43 carriers of the null SERPINE1 mutation. Heterozygosity was associated with significantly longer leukocyte telomere length, lower fasting insulin levels, and lower prevalence of diabetes mellitus. In the extended Amish kindred, carriers of the null SERPINE1 allele had a longer life span. Our study indicates a causal effect of PAI-1 on human longevity, which may be mediated by alterations in metabolism. Our findings demonstrate the utility of studying loss-of-function mutations in populations with geographic and genetic isolation and shed light on a novel therapeutic target for aging.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Cancer, Mutation, Evolution, Senescence, DNA repair, Telomere


Cas9 cleaves specific DNA sequences with the assistance of a programmable single guide RNA (sgRNA). Repairing this broken DNA by the cell’s error-prone non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) machinery leads to insertions and deletions (indels) that often impair DNA function. Using HIV-1, we have now demonstrated that many of these indels are indeed lethal for the virus, but that others lead to the emergence of replication competent viruses that are resistant to Cas9/sgRNA. This unexpected contribution of Cas9 to the development of viral resistance is facilitated by some indels that are not deleterious for viral replication, but that are refractory to recognition by the same sgRNA as a result of changing the target DNA sequences. This observation illustrates two opposite outcomes of Cas9/sgRNA action, i.e., inactivation of HIV-1 and acceleration of viral escape, thereby potentially limiting the use of Cas9/sgRNA in HIV-1 therapy.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Virus, Genome, RNA, DNA repair


Background The prevalence and spectrum of predisposing mutations among children and adolescents with cancer are largely unknown. Knowledge of such mutations may improve the understanding of tumorigenesis, direct patient care, and enable genetic counseling of patients and families. Methods In 1120 patients younger than 20 years of age, we sequenced the whole genomes (in 595 patients), whole exomes (in 456), or both (in 69). We analyzed the DNA sequences of 565 genes, including 60 that have been associated with autosomal dominant cancer-predisposition syndromes, for the presence of germline mutations. The pathogenicity of the mutations was determined by a panel of medical experts with the use of cancer-specific and locus-specific genetic databases, the medical literature, computational predictions, and second hits identified in the tumor genome. The same approach was used to analyze data from 966 persons who did not have known cancer in the 1000 Genomes Project, and a similar approach was used to analyze data from an autism study (from 515 persons with autism and 208 persons without autism). Results Mutations that were deemed to be pathogenic or probably pathogenic were identified in 95 patients with cancer (8.5%), as compared with 1.1% of the persons in the 1000 Genomes Project and 0.6% of the participants in the autism study. The most commonly mutated genes in the affected patients were TP53 (in 50 patients), APC (in 6), BRCA2 (in 6), NF1 (in 4), PMS2 (in 4), RB1 (in 3), and RUNX1 (in 3). A total of 18 additional patients had protein-truncating mutations in tumor-suppressor genes. Of the 58 patients with a predisposing mutation and available information on family history, 23 (40%) had a family history of cancer. Conclusions Germline mutations in cancer-predisposing genes were identified in 8.5% of the children and adolescents with cancer. Family history did not predict the presence of an underlying predisposition syndrome in most patients. (Funded by the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities and the National Cancer Institute.).

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Cancer, Mutation, Germline mutation, Evolution, Genome, DNA repair


Genome editing has potential for the targeted correction of germline mutations. Here we describe the correction of the heterozygous MYBPC3 mutation in human preimplantation embryos with precise CRISPR-Cas9-based targeting accuracy and high homology-directed repair efficiency by activating an endogenous, germline-specific DNA repair response. Induced double-strand breaks (DSBs) at the mutant paternal allele were predominantly repaired using the homologous wild-type maternal gene instead of a synthetic DNA template. By modulating the cell cycle stage at which the DSB was induced, we were able to avoid mosaicism in cleaving embryos and achieve a high yield of homozygous embryos carrying the wild-type MYBPC3 gene without evidence of off-target mutations. The efficiency, accuracy and safety of the approach presented suggest that it has potential to be used for the correction of heritable mutations in human embryos by complementing preimplantation genetic diagnosis. However, much remains to be considered before clinical applications, including the reproducibility of the technique with other heterozygous mutations.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Cell, Mutation, Evolution, DNA repair, DNA replication


Background Among patients with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), data on intratumor heterogeneity and cancer genome evolution have been limited to small retrospective cohorts. We wanted to prospectively investigate intratumor heterogeneity in relation to clinical outcome and to determine the clonal nature of driver events and evolutionary processes in early-stage NSCLC. Methods In this prospective cohort study, we performed multiregion whole-exome sequencing on 100 early-stage NSCLC tumors that had been resected before systemic therapy. We sequenced and analyzed 327 tumor regions to define evolutionary histories, obtain a census of clonal and subclonal events, and assess the relationship between intratumor heterogeneity and recurrence-free survival. Results We observed widespread intratumor heterogeneity for both somatic copy-number alterations and mutations. Driver mutations in EGFR, MET, BRAF, and TP53 were almost always clonal. However, heterogeneous driver alterations that occurred later in evolution were found in more than 75% of the tumors and were common in PIK3CA and NF1 and in genes that are involved in chromatin modification and DNA damage response and repair. Genome doubling and ongoing dynamic chromosomal instability were associated with intratumor heterogeneity and resulted in parallel evolution of driver somatic copy-number alterations, including amplifications in CDK4, FOXA1, and BCL11A. Elevated copy-number heterogeneity was associated with an increased risk of recurrence or death (hazard ratio, 4.9; P=4.4×10(-4)), which remained significant in multivariate analysis. Conclusions Intratumor heterogeneity mediated through chromosome instability was associated with an increased risk of recurrence or death, a finding that supports the potential value of chromosome instability as a prognostic predictor. (Funded by Cancer Research UK and others; TRACERx number, NCT01888601 .).

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cancer, Mutation, Evolution, Lung cancer, Chromosome, DNA repair


The association of histone modification changes with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has not been systematically examined. We conducted a histone acetylome-wide association study (HAWAS) by performing H3K27ac chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing (ChIP-seq) on 257 postmortem samples from ASD and matched control brains. Despite etiological heterogeneity, ≥68% of syndromic and idiopathic ASD cases shared a common acetylome signature at >5,000 cis-regulatory elements in prefrontal and temporal cortex. Similarly, multiple genes associated with rare genetic mutations in ASD showed common “epimutations.” Acetylome aberrations in ASD were not attributable to genetic differentiation at cis-SNPs and highlighted genes involved in synaptic transmission, ion transport, epilepsy, behavioral abnormality, chemokinesis, histone deacetylation, and immunity. By correlating histone acetylation with genotype, we discovered >2,000 histone acetylation quantitative trait loci (haQTLs) in human brain regions, including four candidate causal variants for psychiatric diseases. Due to the relative stability of histone modifications postmortem, we anticipate that the HAWAS approach will be applicable to multiple diseases.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Brain, Histone, DNA repair, Cerebral cortex, Acetylation


In eukaryotes, the classical form of programmed cell death (PCD) is apoptosis, which has as its specific characteristics DNA fragmentation and membrane depolarization. In Escherichia coli a different PCD system has been reported. It is mediated by the toxin-antitoxin system module mazEF. The E. coli mazEF module is one of the most thoroughly studied toxin-antitoxin systems. mazF encodes a stable toxin, MazF, and mazE encodes a labile antitoxin, MazE, which prevents the lethal effect of MazF. mazEF-mediated cell death is a population phenomenon requiring the quorum-sensing pentapeptide NNWNN designated Extracellular Death Factor (EDF). mazEF is triggered by several stressful conditions, including severe damage to the DNA. Here, using confocal microscopy and FACS analysis, we show that under conditions of severe DNA damage, the triggered mazEF-mediated cell death pathway leads to the inhibition of a second cell death pathway. The latter is an apoptotic-like death (ALD); ALD is mediated by recA and lexA. The mazEF-mediated pathway reduces recA mRNA levels. Based on these results, we offer a molecular model for the maintenance of an altruistic characteristic in cell populations. In our model, the ALD pathway is inhibited by the altruistic EDF-mazEF-mediated death pathway.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Genetics, Bacteria, DNA repair, Escherichia coli, Prokaryote, Programmed cell death


The tumour suppressor BRCA1 is mutated in familial breast and ovarian cancer but its role in protecting other tissues from DNA damage has not been explored. Here we show a new role for BRCA1 as a gatekeeper of cardiac function and survival. In mice, loss of BRCA1 in cardiomyocytes results in adverse cardiac remodelling, poor ventricular function and higher mortality in response to ischaemic or genotoxic stress. Mechanistically, loss of cardiomyocyte BRCA1 results in impaired DNA double-strand break repair and activated p53-mediated pro-apoptotic signalling culminating in increased cardiomyocyte apoptosis, whereas deletion of the p53 gene rescues BRCA1-deficient mice from cardiac failure. In human adult and fetal cardiac tissues, ischaemia induces double-strand breaks and upregulates BRCA1 expression. These data reveal BRCA1 as a novel and essential adaptive response molecule shielding cardiomyocytes from DNA damage, apoptosis and heart dysfunction. BRCA1 mutation carriers, in addition to risk of breast and ovarian cancer, may be at a previously unrecognized risk of cardiac failure.

Concepts: DNA, Cancer, Mutation, Heart, DNA repair, BRCA2, P53, BRCA1


Repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) by homologous recombination requires resection of 5'-termini to generate 3'-single-strand DNA tails. Key components of this reaction are exonuclease 1 and the bifunctional endo/exonuclease, Mre11 (refs 2-4). Mre11 endonuclease activity is critical when DSB termini are blocked by bound protein–such as by the DNA end-joining complex, topoisomerases or the meiotic transesterase Spo11 (refs 7-13)–but a specific function for the Mre11 3'-5' exonuclease activity has remained elusive. Here we use Saccharomyces cerevisiae to reveal a role for the Mre11 exonuclease during the resection of Spo11-linked 5'-DNA termini in vivo. We show that the residual resection observed in Exo1-mutant cells is dependent on Mre11, and that both exonuclease activities are required for efficient DSB repair. Previous work has indicated that resection traverses unidirectionally. Using a combination of physical assays for 5'-end processing, our results indicate an alternative mechanism involving bidirectional resection. First, Mre11 nicks the strand to be resected up to 300 nucleotides from the 5'-terminus of the DSB–much further away than previously assumed. Second, this nick enables resection in a bidirectional manner, using Exo1 in the 5'-3' direction away from the DSB, and Mre11 in the 3'-5' direction towards the DSB end. Mre11 exonuclease activity also confers resistance to DNA damage in cycling cells, suggesting that Mre11-catalysed resection may be a general feature of various DNA repair pathways.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Adenosine triphosphate, DNA repair, Homologous recombination, BRCA1, Genetic recombination