Comprehensive genomic analysis has uncovered surprisingly large numbers of genetic alterations in various types of cancers. To robustly and efficiently identify oncogenic “drivers” among these tumors and define their complex relationships with concurrent genetic alterations during tumor pathogenesis remains a daunting task. Recently, zebrafish have emerged as an important animal model for studying human diseases, largely because of their ease of maintenance, high fecundity, obvious advantages for in vivo imaging, high conservation of oncogenes and their molecular pathways, susceptibility to tumorigenesis and, most importantly, the availability of transgenic techniques suitable for use in the fish. Transgenic zebrafish models of cancer have been widely used to dissect oncogenic pathways in diverse tumor types. However, developing a stable transgenic fish model is both tedious and time-consuming, and it is even more difficult and more time-consuming to dissect the cooperation of multiple genes in disease pathogenesis using this approach, which requires the generation of multiple transgenic lines with overexpression of the individual genes of interest followed by complicated breeding of these stable transgenic lines. Hence, use of a mosaic transient transgenic approach in zebrafish offers unique advantages for functional genomic analysis in vivo. Briefly, candidate transgenes can be coinjected into one-cell-stage wild-type or transgenic zebrafish embryos and allowed to integrate together into each somatic cell in a mosaic pattern that leads to mixed genotypes in the same primarily injected animal. This permits one to investigate in a faster and less expensive manner whether and how the candidate genes can collaborate with each other to drive tumorigenesis. By transient overexpression of activated ALK in the transgenic fish overexpressing MYCN, we demonstrate here the cooperation of these two oncogenes in the pathogenesis of a pediatric cancer, neuroblastoma that has resisted most forms of contemporary treatment.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Production of Haploid Zebrafish Embryos by In Vitro Fertilization
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish has become a mainstream vertebrate model that is relevant for many disciplines of scientific study. Zebrafish are especially well suited for forward genetic analysis of developmental processes due to their external fertilization, embryonic size, rapid ontogeny, and optical clarity – a constellation of traits that enable the direct observation of events ranging from gastrulation to organogenesis with a basic stereomicroscope. Further, zebrafish embryos can survive for several days in the haploid state. The production of haploid embryos in vitro
is a powerful tool for mutational analysis, as it enables the identification of recessive mutant alleles present in first generation (F1) female carriers following mutagenesis in the parental (P) generation. This approach eliminates the necessity to raise multiple generations (F2, F3, etc.
) which involves breeding of mutant families, thus saving the researcher time along with reducing the needs for zebrafish colony space, labor, and the husbandry costs. Although zebrafish have been used to conduct forward screens for the past several decades, there has been a steady expansion of transgenic and genome editing tools. These tools now offer a plethora of ways to create nuanced assays for next generation screens that can be used to further dissect the gene regulatory networks that drive vertebrate ontogeny. Here, we describe how to prepare haploid zebrafish embryos. This protocol can be implemented for novel future haploid screens, such as in enhancer and suppressor screens, to address the mechanisms of development for a broad number of processes and tissues that form during early embryonic stages.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, zebrafish, haploid, in vitro fertilization, forward genetic screen, saturation, recessive mutation, mutagenesis
RNA Catalyst as a Reporter for Screening Drugs against RNA Editing in Trypanosomes
Institutions: McGill University, McGill University, McGill University.
Substantial progress has been made in determining the mechanism of mitochondrial RNA editing in trypanosomes. Similarly, considerable progress has been made in identifying the components of the editosome complex that catalyze RNA editing. However, it is still not clear how those proteins work together. Chemical compounds obtained from a high-throughput screen against the editosome may block or affect one or more steps in the editing cycle. Therefore, the identification of new chemical compounds will generate valuable molecular probes for dissecting the editosome function and assembly. In previous studies, in vitro
editing assays were carried out using radio-labeled RNA. These assays are time consuming, inefficient and unsuitable for high-throughput purposes. Here, a homogenous fluorescence-based “mix and measure” hammerhead ribozyme in vitro
reporter assay to monitor RNA editing, is presented. Only as a consequence of RNA editing of the hammerhead ribozyme a fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) oligoribonucleotide substrate undergoes cleavage. This in turn results in separation of the fluorophore from the quencher thereby producing a signal. In contrast, when the editosome function is inhibited, the fluorescence signal will be quenched. This is a highly sensitive and simple assay that should be generally applicable to monitor in vitro
RNA editing or high throughput screening of chemicals that can inhibit the editosome function.
Genetics, Issue 89, RNA editing, Trypanosoma brucei, Editosome, Hammerhead ribozyme (HHR), High-throughput screening, Fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET)
Zinc-finger Nuclease Enhanced Gene Targeting in Human Embryonic Stem Cells
Institutions: Monash University.
One major limitation with current human embryonic stem cell (ESC) differentiation protocols is the generation of heterogeneous cell populations. These cultures contain the cells of interest, but are also contaminated with undifferentiated ESCs, non-neural derivatives and other neuronal subtypes. This limits their use in in vitro
and in vivo
applications, such as in vitro
modeling for drug discovery or cell replacement therapy. To help overcome this, reporter cell lines, which offer a means to visualize, track and isolate cells of interest, can be engineered. However, to achieve this in human embryonic stem cells via conventional homologous recombination is extremely inefficient. This protocol describes targeting of the Pituitary homeobox 3
) locus in human embryonic stem cells using custom designed zinc-finger nucleases, which introduce site-specific double-strand DNA breaks, together with a PITX3
-specific DNA donor vector. Following the generation of the PITX3
reporter cell line, it can then be differentiated using published protocols for use in studies such as in vitro
Parkinson’s disease modeling or cell replacement therapy.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90, Electroporation, human embryonic stem cell, genome editing, reporter cell line, midbrain dopaminergic neurons
Derivation of Cardiac Progenitor Cells from Embryonic Stem Cells
Institutions: University of Michigan, New York University School of Medicine.
Cardiac progenitor cells (CPCs) have the capacity to differentiate into cardiomyocytes, smooth muscle cells (SMC), and endothelial cells and hold great promise in cell therapy against heart disease. Among various methods to isolate CPCs, differentiation of embryonic stem cell (ESC) into CPCs attracts great attention in the field since ESCs can provide unlimited cell source. As a result, numerous strategies have been developed to derive CPCs from ESCs. In this protocol, differentiation and purification of embryonic CPCs from both mouse and human ESCs is described. Due to the difficulty of using cell surface markers to isolate embryonic CPCs, ESCs are engineered with fluorescent reporters activated by CPC-specific cre recombinase expression. Thus, CPCs can be enriched by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). This protocol illustrates procedures to form embryoid bodies (EBs) from ESCs for CPC specification and enrichment. The isolated CPCs can be subsequently cultured for cardiac lineage differentiation and other biological assays. This protocol is optimized for robust and efficient derivation of CPCs from both mouse and human ESCs.
Developmental Biology, Issue 95, embryonic stem cells, embryoid bodies, cardiac progenitor cells, cardiac differentiation, FACS-sorting, fluorescent reporter
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
Generation of Genomic Deletions in Mammalian Cell Lines via CRISPR/Cas9
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, Boston Children's Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The prokaryotic clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated (Cas) 9 system may be re-purposed for site-specific eukaryotic genome engineering. CRISPR/Cas9 is an inexpensive, facile, and efficient genome editing tool that allows genetic perturbation of genes and genetic elements. Here we present a simple methodology for CRISPR design, cloning, and delivery for the production of genomic deletions. In addition, we describe techniques for deletion, identification, and characterization. This strategy relies on cellular delivery of a pair of chimeric single guide RNAs (sgRNAs) to create two double strand breaks (DSBs) at a locus in order to delete the intervening DNA segment by non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) repair. Deletions have potential advantages as compared to single-site small indels given the efficiency of biallelic modification, ease of rapid identification by PCR, predictability of loss-of-function, and utility for the study of non-coding elements. This approach can be used for efficient loss-of-function studies of genes and genetic elements in mammalian cell lines.
Molecular Biology, Issue 95, CRISPR, Cas9, Genome Engineering, Gene Knockout, Genomic Deletion, Gene Regulation
Transfection, Selection, and Colony-picking of Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells TALEN-targeted with a GFP Gene into the AAVS1 Safe Harbor
Institutions: National Institutes of Health, Q Therapeutics.
Targeted transgene addition can provide persistent gene expression while circumventing the gene silencing and insertional mutagenesis caused by viral vector mediated random integration. This protocol describes a universal and efficient transgene targeted addition platform in human iPSCs based on utilization of validated open-source TALENs and a gene-trap-like donor to deliver transgenes into a safe harbor locus. Importantly, effective gene editing is rate-limited by the delivery efficiency of gene editing vectors. Therefore, this protocol first focuses on preparation of iPSCs for transfection to achieve high nuclear delivery efficiency. When iPSCs are dissociated into single cells using a gentle-cell dissociation reagent and transfected using an optimized program, >50% cells can be induced to take up the large gene editing vectors. Because the AAVS1 locus is located in the intron of an active gene (PPP1R12C
), a splicing acceptor (SA)-linked puromycin resistant gene (PAC) was used to select targeted iPSCs while excluding random integration-only and untransfected cells. This strategy greatly increases the chance of obtaining targeted clones, and can be used in other active gene targeting experiments as well. Two weeks after puromycin selection at the dose adjusted for the specific iPSC line, clones are ready to be picked by manual dissection of large, isolated colonies into smaller pieces that are transferred to fresh medium in a smaller well for further expansion and genetic and functional screening. One can follow this protocol to readily obtain multiple GFP reporter iPSC lines that are useful for in vivo
and in vitro
imaging and cell isolation.
Developmental Biology, Issue 96, induced pluripotent stem cell, gene editing, AAVS1, TALEN, GFP
Efficient Generation of hiPSC Neural Lineage Specific Knockin Reporters Using the CRISPR/Cas9 and Cas9 Double Nickase System
Institutions: The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Shengjing Hospital, China Medical University, Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine, University of West Georgia.
Gene targeting is a critical approach for characterizing gene functions in modern biomedical research. However, the efficiency of gene targeting in human cells has been low, which prevents the generation of human cell lines at a desired rate. The past two years have witnessed a rapid progression on improving efficiency of genetic manipulation by genome editing tools such as the CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats)/Cas (CRISPR-associated) system. This manuscript describes a protocol for generating lineage specific human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) reporters using CRISPR/Cas system assisted homologous recombination. Procedures for obtaining necessary components for making neural lineage reporter lines using the CRISPR/Cas system, focusing on construction of targeting vectors and single guide RNAs, are described. This protocol can be extended to platform establishment and mutation correction in hiPSCs.
Developmental Biology, Issue 99, CRISPR, Cas9, double nickase, gene targeting, reporter cell line, genetic engineering, human induced pluripotent stem cells, genome editing, homologous recombination
Evaluation of Zebrafish Kidney Function Using a Fluorescent Clearance Assay
Institutions: University College London, St. George's University of London.
The zebrafish embryo offers a tractable model to study organogenesis and model human genetic disease. Despite its relative simplicity, the zebrafish kidney develops and functions in almost the same way as humans. A major difference in the construction of the human kidney is the presence of millions of nephrons compared to the zebrafish that has only two. However, simplifying such a complex system into basic functional units has aided our understanding of how the kidney develops and operates. In zebrafish, the midline located glomerulus is responsible for the initial blood filtration into two pronephric tubules that diverge to run bilaterally down the embryonic axis before fusing to each other at the cloaca. The pronephric tubules are heavily populated by motile cilia that facilitate the movement of filtrate along the segmented tubule, allowing the exchange of various solutes before finally exiting via the cloaca2-4
. Many genes responsible for CKD, including those related to ciliogenesis, have been studied in zebrafish5
. However, a major draw back has been the difficulty in evaluating zebrafish kidney function after genetic manipulation. Traditional assays to measure kidney dysfunction in humans have proved non translational to zebrafish, mainly due to their aquatic environment and small size. For example, it is not physically possible to extract blood from embryonic staged fish for analysis of urea and creatinine content, as they are too small. In addition, zebrafish do not produce enough urine for testing on a simple proteinuria ‘dipstick’, which is often performed during initial patient examinations. We describe a fluorescent assay that utilizes the optical transparency of the zebrafish to quantitatively monitor the clearance of a fluorescent dye, over time, from the vasculature and out through the kidney, to give a read out of renal function1,6-9
Developmental Biology, Issue 96, Kidney function, Danio rerio, pronephric tubules, renal disease, kidney clearance assay, cilia, Nephronophthisis. Chronic Kidney Disease, Bardet Biedl Syndrome, pericardial injection.
Forward Genetics Screens Using Macrophages to Identify Toxoplasma gondii Genes Important for Resistance to IFN-γ-Dependent Cell Autonomous Immunity
Institutions: New York Medical College.
the causative agent of toxoplasmosis, is an obligate intracellular protozoan pathogen. The parasite invades and replicates within virtually any warm blooded vertebrate cell type. During parasite invasion of a host cell, the parasite creates a parasitophorous vacuole (PV) that originates from the host cell membrane independent of phagocytosis within which the parasite replicates. While IFN-dependent-innate and cell mediated immunity is important for eventual control of infection, innate immune cells, including neutrophils, monocytes and dendritic cells, can also serve as vehicles for systemic dissemination of the parasite early in infection. An approach is described that utilizes the host innate immune response, in this case macrophages, in a forward genetic screen to identify parasite mutants with a fitness defect in infected macrophages following activation but normal invasion and replication in naïve macrophages. Thus, the screen isolates parasite mutants that have a specific defect in their ability to resist the effects of macrophage activation. The paper describes two broad phenotypes of mutant parasites following activation of infected macrophages: parasite stasis versus parasite degradation, often in amorphous vacuoles. The parasite mutants are then analyzed to identify the responsible parasite genes specifically important for resistance to induced mediators of cell autonomous immunity. The paper presents a general approach for the forward genetics screen that, in theory, can be modified to target parasite genes important for resistance to specific antimicrobial mediators. It also describes an approach to evaluate the specific macrophage antimicrobial mediators to which the parasite mutant is susceptible. Activation of infected macrophages can also promote parasite differentiation from the tachyzoite to bradyzoite stage that maintains chronic infection. Therefore, methodology is presented to evaluate the importance of the identified parasite gene to establishment of chronic infection.
Immunology, Issue 97, Toxoplasma, macrophages, innate immunity, intracellular pathogen, immune evasion, infectious disease, forward genetics, parasite
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
Understanding Early Organogenesis Using a Simplified In Situ Hybridization Protocol in Xenopus
Institutions: Hospital for Sick Children, University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario, Hospital for Sick Children, University of Western Ontario.
Organogenesis is the study of how organs are specified and then acquire their specific shape and functions during development. The Xenopuslaevis
embryo is very useful for studying organogenesis because their large size makes them very suitable for identifying organs at the earliest steps in organogenesis. At this time, the primary method used for identifying a specific organ or primordium is whole mount in situ
hybridization with labeled antisense RNA probes specific to a gene that is expressed in the organ of interest. In addition, it is relatively easy to manipulate genes or signaling pathways in Xenopus
and in situ
hybridization allows one to then assay for changes in the presence or morphology of a target organ. Whole mount in situ
hybridization is a multi-day protocol with many steps involved. Here we provide a simplified protocol with reduced numbers of steps and reagents used that works well for routine assays. In situ
hybridization robots have greatly facilitated the process and we detail how and when we utilize that technology in the process. Once an in situ
hybridization is complete, capturing the best image of the result can be frustrating. We provide advice on how to optimize imaging of in situ
hybridization results. Although the protocol describes assessing organogenesis in Xenopus laevis
, the same basic protocol can almost certainly be adapted to Xenopus tropicalis
and other model systems.
Developmental Biology, Issue 95, Xenopus, organogenesis, in situ hybridization, RNA methods, embryology, imaging, whole mount
Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
Mosaic Zebrafish Transgenesis for Evaluating Enhancer Sequences
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania .
The completion of the human genome sequence, along with that of many other species, has highlighted the challenge of ascribing specific function to non coding sequences. One prominent function carried out by the non coding fraction of the genome is to regulate gene transcription; however, there are no effective methods to broadly predict cis-regulatory elements from primary DNA sequence. We have developed an efficient protocol to functionally evaluate potential cis-regulatory elements through zebrafish transgenesis. Our approach offers significant advantages over cell-culture based techniques for developmentally important genes, since it provides information on spatial and temporal gene regulation. Conversely, it is faster and less expensive than similar experiments in transgenic mice, and we routinely apply it to sequences isolated from the human genome. Here we demonstrate our approach to selecting elements for testing based on sequence conservation and our protocol for cloning sequences and microinjecting them into zebrafish embryos.
Cellular Biology, Issue 41, zebrafish, transgenesis, microinjection, GFP, enhancers, transposon
Tomato Analyzer: A Useful Software Application to Collect Accurate and Detailed Morphological and Colorimetric Data from Two-dimensional Objects
Institutions: The Ohio State University.
Measuring fruit morphology and color traits of vegetable and fruit crops in an objective and reproducible way is important for detailed phenotypic analyses of these traits. Tomato Analyzer (TA) is a software program that measures 37 attributes related to two-dimensional shape in a semi-automatic and reproducible manner1,2
. Many of these attributes, such as angles at the distal and proximal ends of the fruit and areas of indentation, are difficult to quantify manually. The attributes are organized in ten categories within the software: Basic Measurement, Fruit Shape Index, Blockiness, Homogeneity, Proximal Fruit End Shape, Distal Fruit End Shape, Asymmetry, Internal Eccentricity, Latitudinal Section and Morphometrics. The last category requires neither prior knowledge nor predetermined notions of the shape attributes, so morphometric analysis offers an unbiased option that may be better adapted to high-throughput analyses than attribute analysis. TA also offers the Color Test application that was designed to collect color measurements from scanned images and allow scanning devices to be calibrated using color standards3
TA provides several options to export and analyze shape attribute, morphometric, and color data. The data may be exported to an excel file in batch mode (more than 100 images at one time) or exported as individual images. The user can choose between output that displays the average for each attribute for the objects in each image (including standard deviation), or an output that displays the attribute values for each object on the image. TA has been a valuable and effective tool for indentifying and confirming tomato fruit shape Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL), as well as performing in-depth analyses of the effect of key fruit shape genes on plant morphology. Also, TA can be used to objectively classify fruit into various shape categories. Lastly, fruit shape and color traits in other plant species as well as other plant organs such as leaves and seeds can be evaluated with TA.
Plant Biology, Issue 37, morphology, color, image processing, quantitative trait loci, software
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
SCOPE is an ensemble motif finder that uses three component algorithms in parallel to identify potential regulatory motifs by over-representation and motif position preference1
. Each component algorithm is optimized to find a different kind of motif. By taking the best of these three approaches, SCOPE performs better than any single algorithm, even in the presence of noisy data1
. In this article, we utilize a web version of SCOPE2
to examine genes that are involved in telomere maintenance. SCOPE has been incorporated into at least two other motif finding programs3,4
and has been used in other studies5-8
The three algorithms that comprise SCOPE are BEAM9
, which finds non-degenerate motifs (ACCGGT), PRISM10
, which finds degenerate motifs (ASCGWT), and SPACER11
, which finds longer bipartite motifs (ACCnnnnnnnnGGT). These three algorithms have been optimized to find their corresponding type of motif. Together, they allow SCOPE to perform extremely well.
Once a gene set has been analyzed and candidate motifs identified, SCOPE can look for other genes that contain the motif which, when added to the original set, will improve the motif score. This can occur through over-representation or motif position preference. Working with partial gene sets that have biologically verified transcription factor binding sites, SCOPE was able to identify most of the rest of the genes also regulated by the given transcription factor.
Output from SCOPE shows candidate motifs, their significance, and other information both as a table and as a graphical motif map. FAQs and video tutorials are available at the SCOPE web site which also includes a "Sample Search" button that allows the user to perform a trial run.
Scope has a very friendly user interface that enables novice users to access the algorithm's full power without having to become an expert in the bioinformatics of motif finding. As input, SCOPE can take a list of genes, or FASTA sequences. These can be entered in browser text fields, or read from a file. The output from SCOPE contains a list of all identified motifs with their scores, number of occurrences, fraction of genes containing the motif, and the algorithm used to identify the motif. For each motif, result details include a consensus representation of the motif, a sequence logo, a position weight matrix, and a list of instances for every motif occurrence (with exact positions and "strand" indicated). Results are returned in a browser window and also optionally by email. Previous papers describe the SCOPE algorithms in detail1,2,9-11
Genetics, Issue 51, gene regulation, computational biology, algorithm, promoter sequence motif
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
Experimental Manipulation of Body Size to Estimate Morphological Scaling Relationships in Drosophila
Institutions: University of Houston, Michigan State University.
The scaling of body parts is a central feature of animal morphology1-7
. Within species, morphological traits need to be correctly proportioned to the body for the organism to function; larger individuals typically have larger body parts and smaller individuals generally have smaller body parts, such that overall body shape is maintained across a range of adult body sizes. The requirement for correct proportions means that individuals within species usually exhibit low variation in relative trait size. In contrast, relative trait size can vary dramatically among species and is a primary mechanism by which morphological diversity is produced. Over a century of comparative work has established these intra- and interspecific patterns3,4
Perhaps the most widely used approach to describe this variation is to calculate the scaling relationship between the size of two morphological traits using the allometric equation y=bxα, where x and y are the size of the two traits, such as organ and body size8,9
. This equation describes the within-group (e.g., species, population) scaling relationship between two traits as both vary in size. Log-transformation of this equation produces a simple linear equation, log(y) = log(b) + αlog(x) and log-log plots of the size of different traits among individuals of the same species typically reveal linear scaling with an intercept of log(b) and a slope of α, called the 'allometric coefficient'9,10
. Morphological variation among groups is described by differences in scaling relationship intercepts or slopes for a given trait pair. Consequently, variation in the parameters of the allometric equation (b and α) elegantly describes the shape variation captured in the relationship between organ and body size within and among biological groups (see 11,12
Not all traits scale linearly with each other or with body size (e.g., 13,14
) Hence, morphological scaling relationships are most informative when the data are taken from the full range of trait sizes. Here we describe how simple experimental manipulation of diet can be used to produce the full range of body size in insects. This permits an estimation of the full scaling relationship for any given pair of traits, allowing a complete description of how shape covaries with size and a robust comparison of scaling relationship parameters among biological groups. Although we focus on Drosophila
, our methodology should be applicable to nearly any fully metamorphic insect.
Developmental Biology, Issue 56, Drosophila, allometry, morphology, body size, scaling, insect
Annotation of Plant Gene Function via Combined Genomics, Metabolomics and Informatics
Given the ever expanding number of model plant species for which complete genome sequences are available and the abundance of bio-resources such as knockout mutants, wild accessions and advanced breeding populations, there is a rising burden for gene functional annotation. In this protocol, annotation of plant gene function using combined co-expression gene analysis, metabolomics and informatics is provided (Figure 1
). This approach is based on the theory of using target genes of known function to allow the identification of non-annotated genes likely to be involved in a certain metabolic process, with the identification of target compounds via metabolomics. Strategies are put forward for applying this information on populations generated by both forward and reverse genetics approaches in spite of none of these are effortless. By corollary this approach can also be used as an approach to characterise unknown peaks representing new or specific secondary metabolites in the limited tissues, plant species or stress treatment, which is currently the important trial to understanding plant metabolism.
Plant Biology, Issue 64, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Metabolomics, Plant metabolism, Transcriptome analysis, Functional annotation, Computational biology, Plant biology, Theoretical biology, Spectroscopy and structural analysis
Gene Trapping Using Gal4 in Zebrafish
Institutions: Temple University .
Large clutch size and external development of optically transparent embryos make zebrafish an exceptional vertebrate model system for in vivo
insertional mutagenesis using fluorescent reporters to tag expression of mutated genes. Several laboratories have constructed and tested enhancer- and gene-trap vectors in zebrafish, using fluorescent proteins, Gal4- and lexA- based transcriptional activators as reporters 1-7
. These vectors had two potential drawbacks: suboptimal stringency (e.g.
lack of ability to differentiate between enhancer- and gene-trap events) and low mutagenicity (e.g.
integrations into genes rarely produced null alleles). Gene Breaking Transposon (GBTs) were developed to address these drawbacks 8-10
. We have modified one of the first GBT vectors, GBT-R15, for use with Gal4-VP16 as the primary gene trap reporter and added UAS:eGFP as the secondary reporter for direct detection of gene trap events. Application of Gal4-VP16 as the primary gene trap reporter provides two main advantages. First, it increases sensitivity for genes expressed at low expression levels. Second, it enables researchers to use gene trap lines as Gal4 drivers to direct expression of other transgenes in very specific tissues. This is especially pertinent for genes with non-essential or redundant functions, where gene trap integration may not result in overt phenotypes. The disadvantage of using Gal4-VP16 as the primary gene trap reporter is that genes coding for proteins with N-terminal signal sequences are not amenable to trapping, as the resulting Gal4-VP16 fusion proteins are unlikely to be able to enter the nucleus and activate transcription. Importantly, the use of Gal4-VP16 does not pre-select for nuclear proteins: we recovered gene trap mutations in genes encoding proteins which function in the nucleus, the cytoplasm and the plasma membrane.
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Zebrafish, Mutagenesis, Genetics, genetics (animal and plant), Gal4, transposon, gene trap, insertional mutagenesis
Pharmacologic Induction of Epidermal Melanin and Protection Against Sunburn in a Humanized Mouse Model
Institutions: University of Kentucky College of Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine.
Fairness of skin, UV sensitivity and skin cancer risk all correlate with the physiologic function of the melanocortin 1 receptor, a Gs
-coupled signaling protein found on the surface of melanocytes. Mc1r stimulates adenylyl cyclase and cAMP production which, in turn, up-regulates melanocytic production of melanin in the skin. In order to study the mechanisms by which Mc1r signaling protects the skin against UV injury, this study relies on a mouse model with "humanized skin" based on epidermal expression of stem cell factor (Scf). K14-Scf
transgenic mice retain melanocytes in the epidermis and therefore have the ability to deposit melanin in the epidermis. In this animal model, wild type Mc1r status results in robust deposition of black eumelanin pigment and a UV-protected phenotype. In contrast, K14-Scf
animals with defective Mc1r signaling ability exhibit a red/blonde pigmentation, very little eumelanin in the skin and a UV-sensitive phenotype. Reasoning that eumelanin deposition might be enhanced by topical agents that mimic Mc1r signaling, we found that direct application of forskolin extract to the skin of Mc1r-defective fair-skinned mice resulted in robust eumelanin induction and UV protection 1
. Here we describe the method for preparing and applying a forskolin-containing natural root extract to K14-Scf
fair-skinned mice and report a method for measuring UV sensitivity by determining minimal erythematous dose (MED). Using this animal model, it is possible to study how epidermal cAMP induction and melanization of the skin affect physiologic responses to UV exposure.
Medicine, Issue 79, Skin, Inflammation, Photometry, Ultraviolet Rays, Skin Pigmentation, melanocortin 1 receptor, Mc1r, forskolin, cAMP, mean erythematous dose, skin pigmentation, melanocyte, melanin, sunburn, UV, inflammation
Mouse Genome Engineering Using Designer Nucleases
Institutions: University of Zurich, University of Minnesota.
Transgenic mice carrying site-specific genome modifications (knockout, knock-in) are of vital importance for dissecting complex biological systems as well as for modeling human diseases and testing therapeutic strategies. Recent advances in the use of designer nucleases such as zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), and the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated (Cas) 9 system for site-specific genome engineering open the possibility to perform rapid targeted genome modification in virtually any laboratory species without the need to rely on embryonic stem (ES) cell technology. A genome editing experiment typically starts with identification of designer nuclease target sites within a gene of interest followed by construction of custom DNA-binding domains to direct nuclease activity to the investigator-defined genomic locus. Designer nuclease plasmids are in vitro
transcribed to generate mRNA for microinjection of fertilized mouse oocytes. Here, we provide a protocol for achieving targeted genome modification by direct injection of TALEN mRNA into fertilized mouse oocytes.
Genetics, Issue 86, Oocyte microinjection, Designer nucleases, ZFN, TALEN, Genome Engineering
Transplantation of Whole Kidney Marrow in Adult Zebrafish
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) are a rare population of pluripotent cells that maintain all the differentiated blood lineages throughout the life of an organism. The functional definition of a HSC is a transplanted cell that has the ability to reconstitute all the blood lineages of an irradiated recipient long term. This designation was established by decades of seminal work in mammalian systems. Using hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) and reverse genetic manipulations in the mouse, the underlying regulatory factors of HSC biology are beginning to be unveiled, but are still largely under-explored. Recently, the zebrafish has emerged as a powerful genetic model to study vertebrate hematopoiesis. Establishing HCT in zebrafish will allow scientists to utilize the large-scale genetic and chemical screening methodologies available in zebrafish to reveal novel mechanisms underlying HSC regulation. In this article, we demonstrate a method to perform HCT in adult zebrafish. We show the dissection and preparation of zebrafish whole kidney marrow, the site of adult hematopoiesis in the zebrafish, and the introduction of these donor cells into the circulation of irradiated recipient fish via intracardiac injection. Additionally, we describe the post-transplant care of fish in an "ICU" to increase their long-term health. In general, gentle care of the fish before, during, and after the transplant is critical to increase the number of fish that will survive more than one month following the procedure, which is essential for assessment of long term (<3 month) engraftment. The experimental data used to establish this protocol will be published elsewhere. The establishment of this protocol will allow for the merger of large-scale zebrafish genetics and transplant biology.
Developmental Biology, Issue 2, zebrafish, HSC, stem cells, transplant