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Concept: Gene expression


The landscape for genetically modified organisms is changing, thanks to sharp increases in the amounts and numbers of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops and the classification of two of the most commonly used herbicides as probably or possibly carcinogenic to humans.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Health, Agriculture, Genetically modified organism, Genetically modified food, Genetically modified organisms, Golden rice


Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages world-wide and one of the primary sources of caffeine intake. Given its important health and economic impact, the underlying genetics of its consumption has been widely studied. Despite these efforts, much has still to be uncovered. In particular, the use of non-additive genetic models may uncover new information about the genetic variants driving coffee consumption. We have conducted a genome-wide association study in two Italian populations using additive, recessive and dominant models for analysis. This has uncovered a significant association in the PDSS2 gene under the recessive model that has been replicated in an independent cohort from the Netherlands (ERF). The identified gene has been shown to negatively regulate the expression of the caffeine metabolism genes and can thus be linked to coffee consumption. Further bioinformatics analysis of eQTL and histone marks from Roadmap data has evidenced a possible role of the identified SNPs in regulating PDSS2 gene expression through enhancers present in its intron. Our results highlight a novel gene which regulates coffee consumption by regulating the expression of the genes linked to caffeine metabolism. Further studies will be needed to clarify the biological mechanism which links PDSS2 and coffee consumption.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Bacteria, Transcription, Biology, Organism


How does human brain structure mature during adolescence? We used MRI to measure cortical thickness and intracortical myelination in 297 population volunteers aged 14-24 y old. We found and replicated that association cortical areas were thicker and less myelinated than primary cortical areas at 14 y. However, association cortex had faster rates of shrinkage and myelination over the course of adolescence. Age-related increases in cortical myelination were maximized approximately at the internal layer of projection neurons. Adolescent cortical myelination and shrinkage were coupled and specifically associated with a dorsoventrally patterned gene expression profile enriched for synaptic, oligodendroglial- and schizophrenia-related genes. Topologically efficient and biologically expensive hubs of the brain anatomical network had greater rates of shrinkage/myelination and were associated with overexpression of the same transcriptional profile as cortical consolidation. We conclude that normative human brain maturation involves a genetically patterned process of consolidating anatomical network hubs. We argue that developmental variation of this consolidation process may be relevant both to normal cognitive and behavioral changes and the high incidence of schizophrenia during human brain adolescence.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Brain, Human brain, Cerebral cortex


DNA methylation plays a critical role in the regulation and maintenance of cell-type specific transcriptional programs. Targeted epigenome editing is an emerging technology to specifically regulate cellular gene expression in order to modulate cell phenotypes or dissect the epigenetic mechanisms involved in their control. In this work, we employed a DNA methyltransferase Dnmt3a-Dnmt3L construct fused to the nuclease-inactivated dCas9 programmable targeting domain to introduce DNA methylation into the human genome specifically at the EpCAM, CXCR4 and TFRC gene promoters. We show that targeting of these loci with single gRNAs leads to efficient and widespread methylation of the promoters. Multiplexing of several guide RNAs does not increase the efficiency of methylation. Peaks of targeted methylation were observed around 25 bp upstream and 40 bp downstream of the PAM site, while 20-30 bp of the binding site itself are protected against methylation. Potent methylation is dependent on the multimerization of Dnmt3a/Dnmt3L complexes on the DNA. Furthermore, the introduced methylation causes transcriptional repression of the targeted genes. These new programmable epigenetic editors allow unprecedented control of the DNA methylation status in cells and will lead to further advances in the understanding of epigenetic signaling.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Transcription, Epigenetics, DNA methylation


Exercise induces beneficial responses in the brain, which is accompanied by an increase in BDNF, a trophic factor associated with cognitive improvement and the alleviation of depression and anxiety. However, the exact mechanisms whereby physical exercise produces an induction in brain Bdnf gene expression are not well understood. While pharmacological doses of HDAC inhibitors exert positive effects on Bdnf gene transcription, the inhibitors represent small molecules that do not occur in vivo. Here, we report that an endogenous molecule released after exercise is capable of inducing key promoters of the Mus musculus Bdnf gene. The metabolite β-hydroxybutyrate, which increases after prolonged exercise, induces the activities of Bdnf promoters, particularly promoter I, which is activity-dependent. We have discovered that the action of β-hydroxybutyrate is specifically upon HDAC2 and HDAC3, which act upon selective Bdnf promoters. Moreover, the effects upon hippocampal Bdnf expression were observed after direct ventricular application of β-hydroxybutyrate. Electrophysiological measurements indicate that β-hydroxybutyrate causes an increase in neurotransmitter release, which is dependent upon the TrkB receptor. These results reveal an endogenous mechanism to explain how physical exercise leads to the induction of BDNF.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Gene expression, Transcription, Hormone, Transcription factor, RNA polymerase


Epigenetic mechanisms are implicated in gene regulation and the development of different diseases. The epigenome differs between cell types and has until now only been characterized for a few human tissues. Environmental factors potentially alter the epigenome. Here we describe the genome-wide pattern of DNA methylation in human adipose tissue from 23 healthy men, with a previous low level of physical activity, before and after a six months exercise intervention. We also investigate the differences in adipose tissue DNA methylation between 31 individuals with or without a family history of type 2 diabetes. DNA methylation was analyzed using Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip, an array containing 485,577 probes covering 99% RefSeq genes. Global DNA methylation changed and 17,975 individual CpG sites in 7,663 unique genes showed altered levels of DNA methylation after the exercise intervention (q<0.05). Differential mRNA expression was present in 1/3 of gene regions with altered DNA methylation, including RALBP1, HDAC4 and NCOR2 (q<0.05). Using a luciferase assay, we could show that increased DNA methylation in vitro of the RALBP1 promoter suppressed the transcriptional activity (p = 0.03). Moreover, 18 obesity and 21 type 2 diabetes candidate genes had CpG sites with differences in adipose tissue DNA methylation in response to exercise (q<0.05), including TCF7L2 (6 CpG sites) and KCNQ1 (10 CpG sites). A simultaneous change in mRNA expression was seen for 6 of those genes. To understand if genes that exhibit differential DNA methylation and mRNA expression in human adipose tissue in vivo affect adipocyte metabolism, we silenced Hdac4 and Ncor2 respectively in 3T3-L1 adipocytes, which resulted in increased lipogenesis both in the basal and insulin stimulated state. In conclusion, exercise induces genome-wide changes in DNA methylation in human adipose tissue, potentially affecting adipocyte metabolism.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Transcription, Epigenetics, RNA, Obesity, DNA methylation


To identify molecular mechanisms underlying the prospective health advantages associated with psychological well-being, we analyzed leukocyte basal gene expression profiles in 80 healthy adults who were assessed for hedonic and eudaimonic well-being, as well as potentially confounded negative psychological and behavioral factors. Hedonic and eudaimonic well-being showed similar affective correlates but highly divergent transcriptome profiles. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from people with high levels of hedonic well-being showed up-regulated expression of a stress-related conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA) involving increased expression of proinflammatory genes and decreased expression of genes involved in antibody synthesis and type I IFN response. In contrast, high levels of eudaimonic well-being were associated with CTRA down-regulation. Promoter-based bioinformatics implicated distinct patterns of transcription factor activity in structuring the observed differences in gene expression associated with eudaimonic well-being (reduced NF-κB and AP-1 signaling and increased IRF and STAT signaling). Transcript origin analysis identified monocytes, plasmacytoid dendritic cells, and B lymphocytes as primary cellular mediators of these dynamics. The finding that hedonic and eudaimonic well-being engage distinct gene regulatory programs despite their similar effects on total well-being and depressive symptoms implies that the human genome may be more sensitive to qualitative variations in well-being than are our conscious affective experiences.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Transcription, Transcription factor


Induction of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) is a primary goal of HIV vaccine development. VRC01-class bnAbs are important vaccine leads because their precursor B cells targeted by an engineered priming immunogen are relatively common among humans. This priming immunogen has demonstrated the ability to initiate a bnAb response in animal models, but recall and maturation toward bnAb development has not been shown. Here, we report the development of boosting immunogens designed to guide the genetic and functional maturation of previously primed VRC01-class precursors. Boosting a transgenic mouse model expressing germline VRC01 heavy chains produced broad neutralization of near-native isolates (N276A) and weak neutralization of fully native HIV. Functional and genetic characteristics indicate that the boosted mAbs are consistent with partially mature VRC01-class antibodies and place them on a maturation trajectory that leads toward mature VRC01-class bnAbs. The results show how reductionist sequential immunization can guide maturation of HIV bnAb responses.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Genetics, Gene expression, Bacteria, Developmental biology, Vaccine, Antigen


While components of the pathway that establishes left-right asymmetry have been identified in diverse animals, from vertebrates to flies, it is striking that the genes involved in the first symmetry-breaking step remain wholly unknown in the most obviously chiral animals, the gastropod snails. Previously, research on snails was used to show that left-right signaling of Nodal, downstream of symmetry breaking, may be an ancestral feature of the Bilateria [1, 2]. Here, we report that a disabling mutation in one copy of a tandemly duplicated, diaphanous-related formin is perfectly associated with symmetry breaking in the pond snail. This is supported by the observation that an anti-formin drug treatment converts dextral snail embryos to a sinistral phenocopy, and in frogs, drug inhibition or overexpression by microinjection of formin has a chirality-randomizing effect in early (pre-cilia) embryos. Contrary to expectations based on existing models [3-5], we discovered asymmetric gene expression in 2- and 4-cell snail embryos, preceding morphological asymmetry. As the formin-actin filament has been shown to be part of an asymmetry-breaking switch in vitro [6, 7], together these results are consistent with the view that animals with diverse body plans may derive their asymmetries from the same intracellular chiral elements [8].

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Animal, Symmetry, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail


Suicides are a leading cause of death in psychiatric patients, and in society at large. Developing more quantitative and objective ways (biomarkers) for predicting and tracking suicidal states would have immediate practical applications and positive societal implications. We undertook such an endeavor. First, building on our previous blood biomarker work in mood disorders and psychosis, we decided to identify blood gene expression biomarkers for suicidality, looking at differential expression of genes in the blood of subjects with a major mood disorder (bipolar disorder), a high-risk population prone to suicidality. We compared no suicidal ideation (SI) states and high SI states using a powerful intrasubject design, as well as an intersubject case-case design, to generate a list of differentially expressed genes. Second, we used a comprehensive Convergent Functional Genomics (CFG) approach to identify and prioritize from the list of differentially expressed gene biomarkers of relevance to suicidality. CFG integrates multiple independent lines of evidence-genetic and functional genomic data-as a Bayesian strategy for identifying and prioritizing findings, reducing the false-positives and false-negatives inherent in each individual approach. Third, we examined whether expression levels of the blood biomarkers identified by us in the live bipolar subject cohort are actually altered in the blood in an age-matched cohort of suicide completers collected from the coroner’s office, and report that 13 out of the 41 top CFG scoring biomarkers (32%) show step-wise significant change from no SI to high SI states, and then to the suicide completers group. Six out of them (15%) remained significant after strict Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons. Fourth, we show that the blood levels of SAT1 (spermidine/spermine N1-acetyltransferase 1), the top biomarker identified by us, at the time of testing for this study, differentiated future as well as past hospitalizations with suicidality, in a live cohort of bipolar disorder subjects, and exhibited a similar but weaker pattern in a live cohort of psychosis (schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder) subjects. Three other (phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN), myristoylated alanine-rich protein kinase C substrate (MARCKS), and mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase 3 (MAP3K3)) of the six biomarkers that survived Bonferroni correction showed similar but weaker effects. Taken together, the prospective and retrospective hospitalization data suggests SAT1, PTEN, MARCKS and MAP3K3 might be not only state biomarkers but trait biomarkers as well. Fifth, we show how a multi-dimensional approach using SAT1 blood expression levels and two simple visual-analog scales for anxiety and mood enhances predictions of future hospitalizations for suicidality in the bipolar cohort (receiver-operating characteristic curve with area under the curve of 0.813). Of note, this simple approach does not directly ask about SI, which some individuals may deny or choose not to share with clinicians. Lastly, we conducted bioinformatic analyses to identify biological pathways, mechanisms and medication targets. Overall, suicidality may be underlined, at least in part, by biological mechanisms related to stress, inflammation and apoptosis.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 20 August 2013; doi:10.1038/mp.2013.95.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Organism, Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder, Suicide