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Concept: Transcription


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


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


Circadian organization of the mammalian transcriptome is achieved by rhythmic recruitment of key modifiers of chromatin structure and transcriptional and translational processes. These rhythmic processes, together with posttranslational modification, constitute circadian oscillators in the brain and peripheral tissues, which drive rhythms in physiology and behavior, including the sleep-wake cycle. In humans, sleep is normally timed to occur during the biological night, when body temperature is low and melatonin is synthesized. Desynchrony of sleep-wake timing and other circadian rhythms, such as occurs in shift work and jet lag, is associated with disruption of rhythmicity in physiology and endocrinology. However, to what extent mistimed sleep affects the molecular regulators of circadian rhythmicity remains to be established. Here, we show that mistimed sleep leads to a reduction of rhythmic transcripts in the human blood transcriptome from 6.4% at baseline to 1.0% during forced desynchrony of sleep and centrally driven circadian rhythms. Transcripts affected are key regulators of gene expression, including those associated with chromatin modification (methylases and acetylases), transcription (RNA polymerase II), translation (ribosomal proteins, initiation, and elongation factors), temperature-regulated transcription (cold inducible RNA-binding proteins), and core clock genes including CLOCK and ARNTL (BMAL1). We also estimated the separate contribution of sleep and circadian rhythmicity and found that the sleep-wake cycle coordinates the timing of transcription and translation in particular. The data show that mistimed sleep affects molecular processes at the core of circadian rhythm generation and imply that appropriate timing of sleep contributes significantly to the overall temporal organization of the human transcriptome.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Cell nucleus, Gene expression, Transcription, RNA, Circadian rhythm


Carefully designed control experiments provide a gold standard for benchmarking different genomics research tools. A shortcoming of many gene expression control studies is that replication involves profiling the same reference RNA sample multiple times. This leads to low, pure technical noise that is atypical of regular studies. To achieve a more realistic noise structure, we generated a RNA-sequencing mixture experiment using two cell lines of the same cancer type. Variability was added by extracting RNA from independent cell cultures and degrading particular samples. The systematic gene expression changes induced by this design allowed benchmarking of different library preparation kits (standard poly-A versus total RNA with Ribozero depletion) and analysis pipelines. Data generated using the total RNA kit had more signal for introns and various RNA classes (ncRNA, snRNA, snoRNA) and less variability after degradation. For differential expression analysis, voom with quality weights marginally outperformed other popular methods, while for differential splicing, DEXSeq was simultaneously the most sensitive and the most inconsistent method. For sample deconvolution analysis, DeMix outperformed IsoPure convincingly. Our RNA-sequencing data set provides a valuable resource for benchmarking different protocols and data pre-processing workflows. The extra noise mimics routine lab experiments more closely, ensuring any conclusions are widely applicable.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Cell, Transcription, RNA, RNA splicing


Bisphenol A (BPA) is a ubiquitous compound that is emerging as a possible toxicant during embryonic development. BPA has been shown to epigenetically affect the developing nervous system, but the molecular mechanisms are not clear. Here we demonstrate that BPA exposure in culture led to delay in the perinatal chloride shift caused by significant decrease in potassium chloride cotransporter 2 (Kcc2) mRNA expression in developing rat, mouse, and human cortical neurons. Neuronal chloride increased correspondingly. Treatment with epigenetic compounds decitabine and trichostatin A rescued the BPA effects as did knockdown of histone deacetylase 1 and combined knockdown histone deacetylase 1 and 2. Furthermore, BPA evoked increase in tangential interneuron migration and increased chloride in migrating neurons. Interestingly, BPA exerted its effect in a sexually dimorphic manner, with a more accentuated effect in females than males. By chromatin immunoprecipitation, we found a significant increase in binding of methyl-CpG binding protein 2 to the “cytosine-phosphate-guanine shores” of the Kcc2 promoter, and decrease in binding of acetylated histone H3K9 surrounding the transcriptional start site. Methyl-CpG binding protein 2-expressing neurons were more abundant resulting from BPA exposure. The sexually dimorphic effect of BPA on Kcc2 expression was also demonstrated in cortical neurons cultured from the offspring of BPA-fed mouse dams. In these neurons and in cortical slices, decitabine was found to rescue the effect of BPA on Kcc2 expression. Overall, our results indicate that BPA can disrupt Kcc2 gene expression through epigenetic mechanisms. Beyond increase in basic understanding, our findings have relevance for identifying unique neurodevelopmental toxicity mechanisms of BPA, which could possibly play a role in pathogenesis of human neurodevelopmental disorders.

Concepts: Nervous system, DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Transcription, Histone, Epigenetics, Histone deacetylase


The technology for evaluating patient-provider interactions in psychotherapy-observational coding-has not changed in 70 years. It is labor-intensive, error prone, and expensive, limiting its use in evaluating psychotherapy in the real world. Engineering solutions from speech and language processing provide new methods for the automatic evaluation of provider ratings from session recordings. The primary data are 200 Motivational Interviewing (MI) sessions from a study on MI training methods with observer ratings of counselor empathy. Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) was used to transcribe sessions, and the resulting words were used in a text-based predictive model of empathy. Two supporting datasets trained the speech processing tasks including ASR (1200 transcripts from heterogeneous psychotherapy sessions and 153 transcripts and session recordings from 5 MI clinical trials). The accuracy of computationally-derived empathy ratings were evaluated against human ratings for each provider. Computationally-derived empathy scores and classifications (high vs. low) were highly accurate against human-based codes and classifications, with a correlation of 0.65 and F-score (a weighted average of sensitivity and specificity) of 0.86, respectively. Empathy prediction using human transcription as input (as opposed to ASR) resulted in a slight increase in prediction accuracies, suggesting that the fully automatic system with ASR is relatively robust. Using speech and language processing methods, it is possible to generate accurate predictions of provider performance in psychotherapy from audio recordings alone. This technology can support large-scale evaluation of psychotherapy for dissemination and process studies.

Concepts: Transcription, Positive predictive value, Type I and type II errors, Sensitivity and specificity, Prediction, Speech recognition, Speech processing, Speech synthesis


The mechanism that specifies olfactory sensory neurons to express only one odorant receptor (OR) from a large repertoire is critical for odor discrimination but poorly understood. Here, we describe the first comprehensive analysis of OR expression regulation in Drosophila. A systematic, RNAi-mediated knock down of most of the predicted transcription factors identified an essential function of acj6, E93, Fer1, onecut, sim, xbp1, and zf30c in the regulation of more than 30 ORs. These regulatory factors are differentially expressed in antennal sensory neuron classes and specifically required for the adult expression of ORs. A systematic analysis reveals not only that combinations of these seven factors are necessary for receptor gene expression but also a prominent role for transcriptional repression in preventing ectopic receptor expression. Such regulation is supported by bioinformatics and OR promoter analyses, which uncovered a common promoter structure with distal repressive and proximal activating regions. Thus, our data provide insight into how combinatorial activation and repression can allow a small number of transcription factors to specify a large repertoire of neuron classes in the olfactory system.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Transcription, Transcription factor, RNA polymerase, Olfactory receptor neuron, Activator