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Concept: Point mutation


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


Albino and hooded (or piebald) rats are one of the most frequently used laboratory animals for the past 150 years. Despite this fact, the origin of the albino mutation as well as the genetic basis of the hooded phenotype remained unclear. Recently, the albino mutation has been identified as the Arg299His missense mutation in the Tyrosinase gene and the hooded (H) locus has been mapped to the ∼460-kb region in which only the Kit gene exists. Here, we surveyed 172 laboratory rat strains for the albino mutation and the hooded (h) mutation that we identified by positional cloning approach to investigate possible genetic roots and relationships of albino and hooded rats. All of 117 existing laboratory albino rats shared the same albino missense mutation, indicating they had only one single ancestor. Genetic fine mapping followed by de novo sequencing of BAC inserts covering the H locus revealed that an endogenous retrovirus (ERV) element was inserted into the first intron of the Kit gene where the hooded allele maps. A solitary long terminal repeat (LTR) was found at the same position to the ERV insertion in another allele of the H locus, which causes the so called Irish (h(i)) phenotype. The ERV and the solitary LTR insertions were completely associated with the hooded and Irish coat patterns, respectively, across all colored rat strains examined. Interestingly, all 117 albino rat strains shared the ERV insertion without any exception, which strongly suggests that the albino mutation had originally occurred in hooded rats.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Allele, Evolution, Point mutation, Albinism


Patterns of genetic diversity in parasite antigen gene families hold important information about their potential to generate antigenic variation within and between hosts. The evolution of such gene families is typically driven by gene duplication, followed by point mutation and gene conversion. There is great interest in estimating the rates of these processes from molecular sequences for understanding the evolution of the pathogen and its significance for infection processes. In this study, a series of models are constructed to investigate hypotheses about the nucleotide diversity patterns between closely related gene sequences from the antigen gene archive of the African trypanosome, the protozoan parasite causative of human sleeping sickness in Equatorial Africa. We use a hidden Markov model approach to identify two scales of diversification: clustering of sequence mismatches, a putative indicator of gene conversion events with other lower-identity donor genes in the archive, and at a sparser scale, isolated mismatches, likely arising from independent point mutations. In addition to quantifying the respective probabilities of occurrence of these two processes, our approach yields estimates for the gene conversion tract length distribution and the average diversity contributed locally by conversion events. Model fitting is conducted using a Bayesian framework. We find that diversifying gene conversion events with lower-identity partners occur at least five times less frequently than point mutations on variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) pairs, and the average imported conversion tract is between 14 and 25 nucleotides long. However, because of the high diversity introduced by gene conversion, the two processes have almost equal impact on the per-nucleotide rate of sequence diversification between VSG subfamily members. We are able to disentangle the most likely locations of point mutations and conversions on each aligned gene pair.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Evolution, Point mutation, Sickle-cell disease


The purpose of this study was to elucidate the molecular basis of ocular albinism type I in a Chinese pedigree.

Concepts: DNA, Mutation, Allele, Point mutation, Missense mutation, Nonsense mutation, Albinism, Ocular albinism


Members of the Frizzled family of sevenpass transmembrane receptors signal via the canonical Wnt pathway and also via noncanonical pathways of which the best characterized is the planar polarity pathway. Activation of both canonical and planar polarity signaling requires interaction between Frizzled receptors and cytoplasmic proteins of the Dishevelled family; however, there has been some dispute regarding whether the Frizzled-Dishevelled interactions are the same in both cases. Studies looking at mutated forms of Dishevelled suggested that stable recruitment of Dishevelled to membranes by Frizzled was required only for planar polarity activity, implying that qualitatively different Frizzled-Dishevelled interactions underlie canonical signaling. Conversely, studies looking at the sequence requirements of Frizzled receptors in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster for canonical and planar polarity signaling have concluded that there is most likely a common mechanism of action. To understand better Frizzled receptor function, we have carried out a large-scale mutagenesis in Drosophila to isolate novel mutations in frizzled that affect planar polarity activity and have identified a group of missense mutations in cytosolic-facing regions of the Frizzled receptor that block Dishevelled recruitment. Interestingly, although some of these affect both planar polarity and canonical activity, as previously reported for similar lesions, we find a subset that affect only planar polarity activity. These results support the view that qualitatively different Frizzled-Dishevelled interactions underlie planar polarity and canonical Wnt signaling.

Concepts: Protein, Mutation, Point mutation, Missense mutation, Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila, Wnt signaling pathway, Frizzled


The GUCY2D gene encodes retinal membrane guanylyl cyclase (RetGC1), a key component of the phototransduction machinery in photoreceptors. Mutations in GUCY2D cause Leber congenital amaurosis type 1 (LCA1), an autosomal recessive human retinal blinding disease. The effects of RetGC1 deficiency on human rod and cone photoreceptor structure and function are currently unknown. To move LCA1 closer to clinical trials, we characterized a cohort of patients (ages 6 mos - 37 yrs) with GUCY2D mutations. In vivo analyses of retinal architecture indicated intact rod photoreceptors in all patients but abnormalities in foveal cones. By functional phenotype, there were patients with and those without detectable cone vision. Rod vision could be retained and did not correlate with extent of cone vision or age. In patients without cone vision, rod vision functioned unsaturated under bright ambient illumination. In vitro analyses of the mutant alleles showed that in addition to the major truncation of the essential catalytic domain in RetGC1, some missense mutations in LCA1 patients result in a severe loss of function by inactivating its catalytic activity and/or ability to interact with the activator proteins, GCAPs. The differences in rod sensitivities among patients were not explained by the biochemical properties of the mutants. However, the RetGC1 mutant alleles with remaining biochemical activity in vitro were associated with retained cone vision in vivo. We postulate a relationship between the level of RetGC1 activity and the degree of cone vision abnormality, and argue for cone function being the efficacy outcome in clinical trials of gene augmentation therapy in LCA1.

Concepts: Mutation, Allele, Retina, Photoreceptor cell, Point mutation, Blindness, Leber's congenital amaurosis, GUCY2D


The homeodomain and adjacent CVC domain in the visual system homeobox (VSX) proteins are conserved from nematodes to humans. Humans with missense mutations in these regions of VSX2 have microphthalmia, suggesting both regions are critical for function. To assess this, we generated the corresponding mutations in mouse Vsx2. The homeodomain mutant protein lacked DNA binding activity and the knock-in mutant phenocopied the null mutant, ocular retardation J. The CVC mutant protein exhibited weakened DNA binding; and, although the corresponding knock-in allele was recessive, it unexpectedly caused the strongest phenotype, as indicated by severe microphthalmia and hyperpigmentation of the neural retina. This occurred through a cryptic transcriptional feedback loop involving the transcription factors Mitf and Otx1 and the Cdk inhibitor p27(Kip1). Our data suggest that the phenotypic severity of the CVC mutant depends on the weakened DNA binding activity elicited by the CVC mutation and a previously unknown protein interaction between Vsx2 and its regulatory target Mitf. Our data also suggest that an essential function of the CVC domain is to assist the homeodomain in high-affinity DNA binding, which is required for eye organogenesis and unhindered execution of the retinal progenitor program in mammals. Finally, the genetic and phenotypic behaviors of the CVC mutation suggest it has the characteristics of a recessive neomorph, a rare type of genetic allele.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Evolution, DNA repair, Point mutation, Muller's morphs


Primary erythromelalgia (PE) is an autosomal dominant neurological disorder characterized by severe burning pain and erythema in the extremities upon heat stimuli or exercise. Mutations in human SCN9A gene, encoding the α-subunit of the voltage-gated sodium channel, Na(v)1.7, were found to be responsible for PE. Three missense mutations of SCN9A gene have recently been identified in Taiwanese patients including a familial (I136V) and two sporadic mutations (I848T, V1316A). V1316A is a novel mutation and has not been characterized yet. Topologically, I136V is located in DI/S1 segment and both I848T and V1316A are located in S4-S5 linker region of DII and DIII domains, respectively. To characterize the elelctrophysiological manifestations, the channel conductance with whole-cell patch clamp was recorded on the over-expressed Chinese hamster overy cells. As compared with wild type, the mutant channels showed a significant hyperpolarizing shift in voltage dependent activation and a depolarizing shift in steady-state fast inactivation. The recovery time from channel inactivation is faster in the mutant than in the wild type channels. Since warmth can trigger and exacerbate symptoms, we then examine the influence of tempearture on the sodium channel conduction. At 35°C, I136V and V1316A mutant channels exhibit a further hyperpolarizing shift at activation as compared with wild type channel, even though wild type channel also produced a significant hyperpolarizing shift compared to that of 25°C. High temperature caused a significant depolarizing shift in steady-state fast inactivation in all three mutant channels. These findings may confer to the hyperexcitability of sensory neurons, especially at high temperature. In order to identifying an effective treatment, we tested the IC(50) values of selective sodium channel blockers, lidocaine and mexiletine. The IC(50) for mexiletine is lower for I848T mutant channel as compared to that of the wild type and other two mutants which is comparable to the clinical observations.

Concepts: DNA, Mutation, Mutant, Action potential, Electrophysiology, Point mutation, Missense mutation, Erythromelalgia


Even a single mutation can cause a marked change in a protein’s properties. When the mutant protein functions within a network, complex phenotypes may emerge that are not intrinsic properties of the protein itself. Network architectures that enable such dramatic changes in function from a few mutations remain relatively uncharacterized. We describe a remarkable example of this versatility in the well-studied PhoQ/PhoP bacterial signaling network, which has an architecture found in many two-component systems. We found that a single point mutation that abolishes the phosphatase activity of the sensor kinase PhoQ results in a striking change in phenotype. The mutant responds to stimulus in a bistable manner, as opposed to the wild-type, which has a graded response. Mutant cells in on and off states have different morphologies, and their state is inherited over many generations. Interestingly, external conditions that repress signaling in the wild-type drive the mutant to the on state. Mathematical modeling and experiments suggest that the bistability depends on positive autoregulation of the two key proteins in the circuit, PhoP and PhoQ. The qualitatively different characteristics of the mutant come at a substantial fitness cost. Relative to the off state, the on state has a lower fitness in stationary phase cultures in rich medium (LB). However, due to the high inheritance of the on state, a population of on cells can be epigenetically trapped in a low-fitness state. Our results demonstrate the remarkable versatility of the prototypical two-component signaling architecture and highlight the tradeoffs in the particular case of the PhoQ/PhoP system.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Mutation, Natural selection, Evolution, Enzyme, Point mutation


Mutations of the Adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) gene are common and strongly associated with the development of colorectal adenomas and carcinomas. While extensively studied in modern populations, reports on visceral tumors in ancient populations are scarce. To the best of our knowledge, genetic characterization of mutations associated with colorectal cancer in ancient specimens has not yet been described. In this study we have sequenced hotspots for mutations in the APC gene isolated from 18th century naturally preserved human Hungarian mummies. While wild type APC sequences were found in two mummies, we discovered the E1317Q missense mutation, known to be a colorectal cancer predisposing mutation, in a large intestine tissue of an 18th century mummy. Our data suggests that this genetic predisposition to cancer already existed in the pre-industrialization era. This study calls for similar investigations of ancient specimens from different periods and geographical locations to be conducted and shared for the purpose of obtaining a larger scale analysis that will shed light on past cancer epidemiology and on cancer evolution.

Concepts: Genetics, Cancer, Mutation, Oncology, DNA repair, Colorectal cancer, Point mutation, Familial adenomatous polyposis