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Concept: Mutation

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Over a decade ago, the Atacama humanoid skeleton (Ata) was discovered in the Atacama region of Chile. The Ata specimen carried a strange phenotype-6-in stature, fewer than expected ribs, elongated cranium, and accelerated bone age-leading to speculation that this was a preserved nonhuman primate, human fetus harboring genetic mutations, or even an extraterrestrial. We previously reported that it was human by DNA analysis with an estimated bone age of about 6-8 yr at the time of demise. To determine the possible genetic drivers of the observed morphology, DNA from the specimen was subjected to whole-genome sequencing using the Illumina HiSeq platform with an average 11.5× coverage of 101-bp, paired-end reads. In total, 3,356,569 single nucleotide variations (SNVs) were found as compared to the human reference genome, 518,365 insertions and deletions (indels), and 1047 structural variations (SVs) were detected. Here, we present the detailed whole-genome analysis showing that Ata is a female of human origin, likely of Chilean descent, and its genome harbors mutations in genes (COL1A1,COL2A1,KMT2D,FLNB,ATR,TRIP11,PCNT) previously linked with diseases of small stature, rib anomalies, cranial malformations, premature joint fusion, and osteochondrodysplasia (also known as skeletal dysplasia). Together, these findings provide a molecular characterization of Ata’s peculiar phenotype, which likely results from multiple known and novel putative gene mutations affecting bone development and ossification.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Evolution, Molecular biology, Human genome, Chile

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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

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Background Child-parent screening for familial hypercholesterolemia has been proposed to identify persons at high risk for inherited premature cardiovascular disease. We assessed the efficacy and feasibility of such screening in primary care practice. Methods We obtained capillary blood samples to measure cholesterol levels and to test for familial hypercholesterolemia mutations in 10,095 children 1 to 2 years of age during routine immunization visits. Children were considered to have positive screening results for familial hypercholesterolemia if their cholesterol level was elevated and they had either a familial hypercholesterolemia mutation or a repeat elevated cholesterol level 3 months later. A parent of each child with a positive screening result for familial hypercholesterolemia was considered to have a positive screening result for familial hypercholesterolemia if he or she had the same mutation as the child or, if no mutations were identified, had the higher cholesterol level of the two parents. Results The use of a prespecified cholesterol cutoff value of 1.53 multiples of the median (MoM, corresponding to a percentile of 99.2) identified 28 children who had positive screening results for familial hypercholesterolemia (0.3% of the 10,095 children; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.2 to 0.4), including 20 with a familial hypercholesterolemia mutation and 8 with a repeat cholesterol level of at least 1.53 MoM. A total of 17 children who had a cholesterol level of less than 1.53 MoM also had a familial hypercholesterolemia mutation. The overall mutation prevalence was 1 in 273 children (37 in 10,095; 95% CI, 1 in 198 to 1 in 388). The use of an initial cholesterol cutoff value of 1.35 MoM (95th percentile) plus a mutation, or two cholesterol values of at least 1.50 MoM (99th percentile), identified 40 children who had positive screening results for familial hypercholesterolemia (0.4% of the 10,095 children, including 32 children who had a familial hypercholesterolemia mutation and 8 who did not have the mutation) and 40 parents who had positive screening results for familial hypercholesterolemia. Conclusions Child-parent screening was feasible in primary care practices at routine child immunization visits. For every 1000 children screened, 8 persons (4 children and 4 parents) were identified as having positive screening results for familial hypercholesterolemia and were consequently at high risk for cardiovascular disease. (Funded by the Medical Research Council.).

Concepts: Immune system, Cancer, Genetic disorder, Mutation, Atherosclerosis, Median, Mother, Hypercholesterolemia

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A recent slew of ENCODE Consortium publications, specifically the article signed by all Consortium members, put forward the idea that more than 80% of the human genome is functional. This claim flies in the face of current estimates according to which the fraction of the genome that is evolutionarily conserved through purifying selection is under 10%. Thus, according to the ENCODE Consortium, a biological function can be maintained indefinitely without selection, which implies that at least 80 - 10 = 70% of the genome is perfectly invulnerable to deleterious mutations, either because no mutation can ever occur in these “functional” regions, or because no mutation in these regions can ever be deleterious. This absurd conclusion was reached through various means, chiefly (1) by employing the seldom used “causal role” definition of biological function and then applying it inconsistently to different biochemical properties, (2) by committing a logical fallacy known as “affirming the consequent,” (3) by failing to appreciate the crucial difference between “junk DNA” and “garbage DNA,” (4) by using analytical methods that yield biased errors and inflate estimates of functionality, (5) by favoring statistical sensitivity over specificity, and (6) by emphasizing statistical significance rather than the magnitude of the effect. Here, we detail the many logical and methodological transgressions involved in assigning functionality to almost every nucleotide in the human genome. The ENCODE results were predicted by one of its authors to necessitate the rewriting of textbooks. We agree, many textbooks dealing with marketing, mass-media hype, and public relations may well have to be rewritten.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Natural selection, Human genome, Human Genome Project, Junk DNA

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A CAPN1 missense mutation in Parson Russell Terrier dogs is associated with spinocerebellar ataxia. We now report that homozygous or heterozygous CAPN1-null mutations in humans result in cerebellar ataxia and limb spasticity in four independent pedigrees. Calpain-1 knockout (KO) mice also exhibit a mild form of ataxia due to abnormal cerebellar development, including enhanced neuronal apoptosis, decreased number of cerebellar granule cells, and altered synaptic transmission. Enhanced apoptosis is due to absence of calpain-1-mediated cleavage of PH domain and leucine-rich repeat protein phosphatase 1 (PHLPP1), which results in inhibition of the Akt pro-survival pathway in developing granule cells. Injection of neonatal mice with the indirect Akt activator, bisperoxovanadium, or crossing calpain-1 KO mice with PHLPP1 KO mice prevented increased postnatal cerebellar granule cell apoptosis and restored granule cell density and motor coordination in adult mice. Thus, mutations in CAPN1 are an additional cause of ataxia in mammals, including humans.

Concepts: DNA, Neuron, Mutation, Enzyme, Cerebellum, Granule cell, Point mutation, Jack Russell Terrier

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Transmissible cancers are clonal lineages that spread through populations via contagious cancer cells. Although rare in nature, two facial tumor clones affect Tasmanian devils. Here we perform comparative genetic and functional characterization of these lineages. The two cancers have similar patterns of mutation and show no evidence of exposure to exogenous mutagens or viruses. Genes encoding PDGF receptors have copy number gains and are present on extrachromosomal double minutes. Drug screening indicates causative roles for receptor tyrosine kinases and sensitivity to inhibitors of DNA repair. Y chromosome loss from a male clone infecting a female host suggests immunoediting. These results imply that Tasmanian devils may have inherent susceptibility to transmissible cancers and present a suite of therapeutic compounds for use in conservation.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Cancer, Mutation, Signal transduction, Mutagen

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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

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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

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Background Somatic mutations have the potential to encode “non-self” immunogenic antigens. We hypothesized that tumors with a large number of somatic mutations due to mismatch-repair defects may be susceptible to immune checkpoint blockade. Methods We conducted a phase 2 study to evaluate the clinical activity of pembrolizumab, an anti-programmed death 1 immune checkpoint inhibitor, in 41 patients with progressive metastatic carcinoma with or without mismatch-repair deficiency. Pembrolizumab was administered intravenously at a dose of 10 mg per kilogram of body weight every 14 days in patients with mismatch repair-deficient colorectal cancers, patients with mismatch repair-proficient colorectal cancers, and patients with mismatch repair-deficient cancers that were not colorectal. The coprimary end points were the immune-related objective response rate and the 20-week immune-related progression-free survival rate. Results The immune-related objective response rate and immune-related progression-free survival rate were 40% (4 of 10 patients) and 78% (7 of 9 patients), respectively, for mismatch repair-deficient colorectal cancers and 0% (0 of 18 patients) and 11% (2 of 18 patients) for mismatch repair-proficient colorectal cancers. The median progression-free survival and overall survival were not reached in the cohort with mismatch repair-deficient colorectal cancer but were 2.2 and 5.0 months, respectively, in the cohort with mismatch repair-proficient colorectal cancer (hazard ratio for disease progression or death, 0.10 [P<0.001], and hazard ratio for death, 0.22 [P=0.05]). Patients with mismatch repair-deficient noncolorectal cancer had responses similar to those of patients with mismatch repair-deficient colorectal cancer (immune-related objective response rate, 71% [5 of 7 patients]; immune-related progression-free survival rate, 67% [4 of 6 patients]). Whole-exome sequencing revealed a mean of 1782 somatic mutations per tumor in mismatch repair-deficient tumors, as compared with 73 in mismatch repair-proficient tumors (P=0.007), and high somatic mutation loads were associated with prolonged progression-free survival (P=0.02). Conclusions This study showed that mismatch-repair status predicted clinical benefit of immune checkpoint blockade with pembrolizumab. (Funded by Johns Hopkins University and others; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT01876511 .).

Concepts: Immune system, Cancer, Ionizing radiation, Metastasis, Mutation, Oncology, Colorectal cancer, Neoplasm

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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