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Concept: Endoplasmic reticulum


Diabetes and its concurrent complications impact a significant proportion of the population of the US and create a large financial burden on the American health care system. FDA-approved maggot debridement therapy (MDT), the application of sterile laboratory-reared Lucilia sericata (green bottle fly) larvae to wounds, is a cost-effective and successful treatment for diabetic foot ulcers and other medical conditions. Human platelet derived growth factor-BB (PDGF-BB) is a secreted dimeric peptide growth factor that binds the PDGF receptor. PDGF-BB stimulates cell proliferation and survival, promotes wound healing, and has been investigated as a possible topical treatment for non-healing wounds. Genetic engineering has allowed for expression and secretion of human growth factors and other proteins in transgenic insects. Here, we present a novel concept in MDT technology that combines the established benefits of MDT with the power of genetic engineering to promote healing. The focus of this study is to create and characterize strains of transgenic L. sericata that express and secrete PDGF-BB at detectable levels in adult hemolymph, whole larval lysate, and maggot excretions/ secretions (ES), with potential for clinical utility in wound healing.

Concepts: Endoplasmic reticulum, Calliphoridae, Secretion, Green bottle fly, Signal transduction, Wound healing, Platelet-derived growth factor, Cell


Leptospirosis, caused by spirochetes of the genus Leptospira, is a globally widespread, neglected and emerging zoonotic disease. While whole genome analysis of individual pathogenic, intermediately pathogenic and saprophytic Leptospira species has been reported, comprehensive cross-species genomic comparison of all known species of infectious and non-infectious Leptospira, with the goal of identifying genes related to pathogenesis and mammalian host adaptation, remains a key gap in the field. Infectious Leptospira, comprised of pathogenic and intermediately pathogenic Leptospira, evolutionarily diverged from non-infectious, saprophytic Leptospira, as demonstrated by the following computational biology analyses: 1) the definitive taxonomy and evolutionary relatedness among all known Leptospira species; 2) genomically-predicted metabolic reconstructions that indicate novel adaptation of infectious Leptospira to mammals, including sialic acid biosynthesis, pathogen-specific porphyrin metabolism and the first-time demonstration of cobalamin (B12) autotrophy as a bacterial virulence factor; 3) CRISPR/Cas systems demonstrated only to be present in pathogenic Leptospira, suggesting a potential mechanism for this clade’s refractoriness to gene targeting; 4) finding Leptospira pathogen-specific specialized protein secretion systems; 5) novel virulence-related genes/gene families such as the Virulence Modifying (VM) (PF07598 paralogs) proteins and pathogen-specific adhesins; 6) discovery of novel, pathogen-specific protein modification and secretion mechanisms including unique lipoprotein signal peptide motifs, Sec-independent twin arginine protein secretion motifs, and the absence of certain canonical signal recognition particle proteins from all Leptospira; and 7) and demonstration of infectious Leptospira-specific signal-responsive gene expression, motility and chemotaxis systems. By identifying large scale changes in infectious (pathogenic and intermediately pathogenic) vs. non-infectious Leptospira, this work provides new insights into the evolution of a genus of bacterial pathogens. This work will be a comprehensive roadmap for understanding leptospirosis pathogenesis. More generally, it provides new insights into mechanisms by which bacterial pathogens adapt to mammalian hosts.

Concepts: Leptospira, Endoplasmic reticulum, Amino acid, Microbiology, DNA, Evolution, Gene, Bacteria


The recent Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreak in the Western hemisphere is associated with severe pathology in newborns, including microcephaly and brain damage. The mechanisms underlying these outcomes are under intense investigation. Here, we show that a 2015 ZIKV isolate replicates in multiple cell types, including primary human fetal neural progenitors (hNPs). In immortalized cells, ZIKV is cytopathic and grossly rearranges endoplasmic reticulum membranes similar to other flaviviruses. In hNPs, ZIKV infection has a partial cytopathic phase characterized by cell rounding, pyknosis, and activation of caspase 3. Despite notable cell death, ZIKV did not activate a cytokine response in hNPs. This lack of cell intrinsic immunity to ZIKV is consistent with our observation that virus replication persists in hNPs for at least 28 days. These findings, supported by published fetal neuropathology, establish a proof-of-concept that neural progenitors in the developing human fetus can be direct targets of detrimental ZIKV-induced pathology.

Concepts: Infant, Cell, Fetus, Pregnancy, Embryo, Apoptosis, Endoplasmic reticulum


During prion disease, an increase in misfolded prion protein (PrP) generated by prion replication leads to sustained overactivation of the branch of the unfolded protein response (UPR) that controls the initiation of protein synthesis. This results in persistent repression of translation, resulting in the loss of critical proteins that leads to synaptic failure and neuronal death. We have previously reported that localized genetic manipulation of this pathway rescues shutdown of translation and prevents neurodegeneration in a mouse model of prion disease, suggesting that pharmacological inhibition of this pathway might be of therapeutic benefit. We show that oral treatment with a specific inhibitor of the kinase PERK (protein kinase RNA-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase), a key mediator of this UPR pathway, prevented UPR-mediated translational repression and abrogated development of clinical prion disease in mice, with neuroprotection observed throughout the mouse brain. This was the case for animals treated both at the preclinical stage and also later in disease when behavioral signs had emerged. Critically, the compound acts downstream and independently of the primary pathogenic process of prion replication and is effective despite continuing accumulation of misfolded PrP. These data suggest that PERK, and other members of this pathway, may be new therapeutic targets for developing drugs against prion disease or other neurodegenerative diseases where the UPR has been implicated.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Gene, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, Endoplasmic reticulum, Protein folding, Proteins, Prion, Protein


We surveyed the “dark” proteome-that is, regions of proteins never observed by experimental structure determination and inaccessible to homology modeling. For 546,000 Swiss-Prot proteins, we found that 44-54% of the proteome in eukaryotes and viruses was dark, compared with only ∼14% in archaea and bacteria. Surprisingly, most of the dark proteome could not be accounted for by conventional explanations, such as intrinsic disorder or transmembrane regions. Nearly half of the dark proteome comprised dark proteins, in which the entire sequence lacked similarity to any known structure. Dark proteins fulfill a wide variety of functions, but a subset showed distinct and largely unexpected features, such as association with secretion, specific tissues, the endoplasmic reticulum, disulfide bonding, and proteolytic cleavage. Dark proteins also had short sequence length, low evolutionary reuse, and few known interactions with other proteins. These results suggest new research directions in structural and computational biology.

Concepts: Protein structure, Bacteria, Evolution, DNA, Cell, Bioinformatics, Endoplasmic reticulum, Protein


Critical aspects of HIV-1 infection occur in mucosal tissues, particularly in the gut, which contains large numbers of HIV-1 target cells that are depleted early in infection. We used electron tomography (ET) to image HIV-1 in gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) of HIV-1-infected humanized mice, the first three-dimensional ultrastructural examination of HIV-1 infection in vivo. Human immune cells were successfully engrafted in the mice, and following infection with HIV-1, human T cells were reduced in GALT. Virions were found by ET at all stages of egress, including budding immature virions and free mature and immature viruses. Immuno-electron microscopy verified the virions were HIV-1 and showed CD4 sequestration in the endoplasmic reticulum of infected cells. Observation of HIV-1 in infected GALT tissue revealed that most HIV-1-infected cells, identified by immunolabeling and/or the presence of budding virions, were localized to intestinal crypts with pools of free virions concentrated in spaces between cells. Fewer infected cells were found in mucosal regions and the lamina propria. The preservation quality of reconstructed tissue volumes allowed details of budding virions, including structures interpreted as host-encoded scission machinery, to be resolved. Although HIV-1 virions released from infected cultured cells have been described as exclusively mature, we found pools of both immature and mature free virions within infected tissue. The pools could be classified as containing either mostly mature or mostly immature particles, and analyses of their proximities to the cell of origin supported a model of semi-synchronous waves of virion release. In addition to HIV-1 transmission by pools of free virus, we found evidence of transmission via virological synapses. Three-dimensional EM imaging of an active infection within tissue revealed important differences between cultured cell and tissue infection models and furthered the ultrastructural understanding of HIV-1 transmission within lymphoid tissue.

Concepts: Infection, Bacteria, White blood cell, Protein, Virus, Immune system, Lymphatic system, Endoplasmic reticulum


Previously, we reported that the mitochondrial translocator protein (TSPO) induces HIV-1 Env degradation via endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-associated protein degradation (ERAD) pathway, but the mechanism was not clear. Here, we investigated how the four ER-associated GH47 α-mannosidases ERManI, EDEM1, EDEM2, and EDEM3 are involved in the HIV-1 Env degradation process. Ectopic expression of these α-mannosidases uncovers that only ERManI inhibits HIV-1 Env expression in a dose-dependent manner. In addition, genetic knockout of the ERManI gene MAN1B1 using CRISPR/Cas9 technology disrupts the TSPO-mediated Env degradation. Biochemical studies show that HIV-1 Env interacts with ERManI, and between the ERManI cytoplasmic, transmembrane, lumenal stem, and lumenal catalytic domains, the catalytic domain plays a critical role in the Env-ERManI interaction. In addition, functional studies show that inactivation of the catalytic sites by site-directed mutagenesis disrupts the ERManI activity. These studies identify ERManI as a critical GH47 α-mannosidase in the ERAD pathway that initiates the Env degradation, and suggests that its catalytic domain and enzymatic activity play an important role in this process.

Concepts: Gene, Catalysis, Active site, Endoplasmic reticulum, Enzyme, Metabolism, Protein, Cell


Imbalances in endoplasmic reticulum (ER) proteostasis are associated with etiologically-diverse degenerative diseases linked to excessive extracellular protein misfolding and aggregation. Reprogramming of the ER proteostasis environment through genetic activation of the Unfolded Protein Response (UPR)-associated transcription factor ATF6 attenuates secretion and extracellular aggregation of amyloidogenic proteins. Here, we employed a screening approach that included complementary arm-specific UPR reporters and medium-throughput transcriptional profiling to identify non-toxic small molecules that phenocopy the ATF6-mediated reprogramming of the ER proteostasis environment. The ER reprogramming afforded by our molecules requires activation of endogenous ATF6 and occurs independent of global ER stress. Furthermore, our molecules phenocopy the ability of genetic ATF6 activation to selectively reduce secretion and extracellular aggregation of amyloidogenic proteins. These results show that small molecule-dependent ER reprogramming, achieved through preferential activation of the ATF6 transcriptional program, is a promising strategy to ameliorate imbalances in ER function associated with degenerative protein aggregation diseases.

Concepts: Small molecule, Biochemistry, Cell, Gene, Transcription, Endoplasmic reticulum, Protein, DNA


The role of protein localization along the apical-basal axis of polarized cells is difficult to investigate in vivo, partially due to lack of suitable tools. Here, we present the GrabFP system, a collection of four nanobody-based GFP-traps that localize to defined positions along the apical-basal axis. We show that the localization preference of the GrabFP traps can impose a novel localization on GFP-tagged target proteins and results in their controlled mislocalization. These new tools were used to mislocalize transmembrane and cytoplasmic GFP fusion proteins in the Drosophila wing disc epithelium and to investigate the effect of protein mislocalization. Furthermore, we used the GrabFP system as a tool to study the extracellular dispersal of the Decapentaplegic (Dpp) protein and show that the Dpp gradient forming in the lateral plane of the Drosophila wing disc epithelium is essential for patterning of the wing imaginal disc.

Concepts: Ribosome, Cell, Endoplasmic reticulum, Tool, Cytoplasm, Cell nucleus, Cell membrane, Protein


Phosphorylation of the α-subunit of initiation factor 2 (eIF2) controls protein synthesis by a conserved mechanism. In metazoa, distinct stress conditions activate different eIF2α kinases (PERK, PKR, GCN2, and HRI) that converge on phosphorylating a unique serine in eIF2α. This collection of signaling pathways is termed the ‘integrated stress response’ (ISR). eIF2α phosphorylation diminishes protein synthesis, while allowing preferential translation of some mRNAs. Starting with a cell-based screen for inhibitors of PERK signaling, we identified a small molecule, named ISRIB, that potently (IC50 = 5 nM) reverses the effects of eIF2α phosphorylation. ISRIB reduces the viability of cells subjected to PERK-activation by chronic endoplasmic reticulum stress. eIF2α phosphorylation is implicated in memory consolidation. Remarkably, ISRIB-treated mice display significant enhancement in spatial and fear-associated learning. Thus, memory consolidation is inherently limited by the ISR, and ISRIB releases this brake. As such, ISRIB promises to contribute to our understanding and treatment of cognitive disorders. DOI:

Concepts: Gene expression, Genetic code, Messenger RNA, Endoplasmic reticulum, Signal transduction, Ribosome, Protein, Protein biosynthesis