Alternative splicing plays a critical role in the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), an essential cellular program that occurs in various physiological and pathological processes. Here we describe a strategy to detect alternative splicing during EMT using an inducible EMT model by expressing the transcription repressor Twist. EMT is monitored by changes in cell morphology, loss of E-cadherin localization at cell-cell junctions, and the switched expression of EMT markers, such as loss of epithelial markers E-cadherin and γ-catenin and gain of mesenchymal markers N-cadherin and vimentin. Using isoform-specific primer sets, the alternative splicing of interested mRNAs are analyzed by quantitative RT-PCR. The production of corresponding protein isoforms is validated by immunoblotting assays. The method of detecting splice isoforms described here is also suitable for the study of alternative splicing in other biological processes.
15 Related JoVE Articles!
Transient Gene Expression in Tobacco using Gibson Assembly and the Gene Gun
Institutions: Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, Delft University of Technology.
In order to target a single protein to multiple subcellular organelles, plants typically duplicate the relevant genes, and express each gene separately using complex regulatory strategies including differential promoters and/or signal sequences. Metabolic engineers and synthetic biologists interested in targeting enzymes to a particular organelle are faced with a challenge: For a protein that is to be localized to more than one organelle, the engineer must clone the same gene multiple times. This work presents a solution to this strategy: harnessing alternative splicing of mRNA. This technology takes advantage of established chloroplast and peroxisome targeting sequences and combines them into a single mRNA that is alternatively spliced. Some splice variants are sent to the chloroplast, some to the peroxisome, and some to the cytosol. Here the system is designed for multiple-organelle targeting with alternative splicing. In this work, GFP was expected to be expressed in the chloroplast, cytosol, and peroxisome by a series of rationally designed 5’ mRNA tags. These tags have the potential to reduce the amount of cloning required when heterologous genes need to be expressed in multiple subcellular organelles. The constructs were designed in previous work11
, and were cloned using Gibson assembly, a ligation independent cloning method that does not require restriction enzymes. The resultant plasmids were introduced into Nicotiana benthamiana
epidermal leaf cells with a modified Gene Gun protocol. Finally, transformed leaves were observed with confocal microscopy.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 86, Plant Leaves, Synthetic Biology, Plants, Genetically Modified, DNA, Plant, RNA, Gene Targeting, Plant Physiological Processes, Genes, Gene gun, Gibson assembly, Nicotiana benthamiana, Alternative splicing, confocal microscopy, chloroplast, peroxisome
Small-scale Nuclear Extracts for Functional Assays of Gene-expression Machineries
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
A great deal of progress in understanding gene expression has been made using in vitro
systems. For most studies, functional assays are carried out using extracts that are prepared in bulk from 10-50 or more liters of cells grown in suspension. However, these large-scale preparations are not amenable to rapidly testing in vitro
effects that result from a variety of in vivo
cellular treatments or conditions. This journal video article shows a method for preparing functional small-scale nuclear extracts, using HeLa cells as an example. This method is carried out using as few as three 150 mm plates of cells grown as adherent monolayers. To illustrate the efficiency of the small-scale extracts, we show that they are as active as bulk nuclear extracts for coupled RNA Polymerase II transcription/splicing reactions. To demonstrate the utility of the extract protocol, we show that splicing is abolished in extracts prepared from HeLa cells treated with the splicing inhibitor drug E7107. The small-scale protocol should be generally applicable to any process or cell type that can be investigated in vitro
using cellular extracts. These include patient cells that are only available in limited quantities or cells exposed to numerous agents such as drugs, DNA damaging agents, RNAi, or transfection, which require the use of small cell populations. In addition, small amounts of freshly grown cells are convenient and/or required for some applications.
Cellular Biology, Issue 64, Genetics, HeLa nuclear extract, small-scale extract, pre-mRNA splicing, RNA polymerase II transcription, RNAi, coupled transcription/splicing, in vitro gene expression assays
Microarray-based Identification of Individual HERV Loci Expression: Application to Biomarker Discovery in Prostate Cancer
Institutions: Joint Unit Hospices de Lyon-bioMérieux, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Lyon 1 University, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Hospices Civils de Lyon.
The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is the main diagnostic biomarker for prostate cancer in clinical use, but it lacks specificity and sensitivity, particularly in low dosage values1
. ‘How to use PSA' remains a current issue, either for diagnosis as a gray zone corresponding to a concentration in serum of 2.5-10 ng/ml which does not allow a clear differentiation to be made between cancer and noncancer2
or for patient follow-up as analysis of post-operative PSA kinetic parameters can pose considerable challenges for their practical application3,4
. Alternatively, noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) are emerging as key molecules in human cancer, with the potential to serve as novel markers of disease, e.g.
PCA3 in prostate cancer5,6
and to reveal uncharacterized aspects of tumor biology. Moreover, data from the ENCODE project published in 2012 showed that different RNA types cover about 62% of the genome. It also appears that the amount of transcriptional regulatory motifs is at least 4.5x higher than the one corresponding to protein-coding exons. Thus, long terminal repeats (LTRs) of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) constitute a wide range of putative/candidate transcriptional regulatory sequences, as it is their primary function in infectious retroviruses. HERVs, which are spread throughout the human genome, originate from ancestral and independent infections within the germ line, followed by copy-paste propagation processes and leading to multicopy families occupying 8% of the human genome (note that exons span 2% of our genome). Some HERV loci still express proteins that have been associated with several pathologies including cancer7-10
. We have designed a high-density microarray, in Affymetrix format, aiming to optimally characterize individual HERV loci expression, in order to better understand whether they can be active, if they drive ncRNA transcription or modulate coding gene expression. This tool has been applied in the prostate cancer field (Figure 1
Medicine, Issue 81, Cancer Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Prostate, Retroviridae, Biomarkers, Pharmacological, Tumor Markers, Biological, Prostatectomy, Microarray Analysis, Gene Expression, Diagnosis, Human Endogenous Retroviruses, HERV, microarray, Transcriptome, prostate cancer, Affymetrix
Synthesis of an Intein-mediated Artificial Protein Hydrogel
Institutions: Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas A&M University, College Station.
We present the synthesis of a highly stable protein hydrogel mediated by a split-intein-catalyzed protein trans
-splicing reaction. The building blocks of this hydrogel are two protein block-copolymers each containing a subunit of a trimeric protein that serves as a crosslinker and one half of a split intein. A highly hydrophilic random coil is inserted into one of the block-copolymers for water retention. Mixing of the two protein block copolymers triggers an intein trans
-splicing reaction, yielding a polypeptide unit with crosslinkers at either end that rapidly self-assembles into a hydrogel. This hydrogel is very stable under both acidic and basic conditions, at temperatures up to 50 °C, and in organic solvents. The hydrogel rapidly reforms after shear-induced rupture. Incorporation of a "docking station peptide" into the hydrogel building block enables convenient incorporation of "docking protein"-tagged target proteins. The hydrogel is compatible with tissue culture growth media, supports the diffusion of 20 kDa molecules, and enables the immobilization of bioactive globular proteins. The application of the intein-mediated protein hydrogel as an organic-solvent-compatible biocatalyst was demonstrated by encapsulating the horseradish peroxidase enzyme and corroborating its activity.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, split-intein, self-assembly, shear-thinning, enzyme, immobilization, organic synthesis
Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al.
Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI
program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al.
2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro
method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo
experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e.
smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions.
The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo
. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release.
The in vitro
smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
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
Microinjection of Zebrafish Embryos to Analyze Gene Function
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, Children’s Hospital Boston.
One of the advantages of studying zebrafish is the ease and speed of manipulating protein levels in the embryo. Morpholinos, which are synthetic oligonucleotides with antisense complementarity to target RNAs, can be added to the embryo to reduce the expression of a particular gene product. Conversely, processed mRNA can be added to the embryo to increase levels of a gene product. The vehicle for adding either mRNA or morpholino to an embryo is microinjection. Microinjection is efficient and rapid, allowing for the injection of hundreds of embryos per hour. This video shows all the steps involved in microinjection. Briefly, eggs are collected immediately after being laid and lined up against a microscope slide in a Petri dish. Next, a fine-tipped needle loaded with injection material is connected to a microinjector and an air source, and the microinjector controls are adjusted to produce a desirable injection volume. Finally, the needle is plunged into the embryo's yolk and the morpholino or mRNA is expelled.
Developmental Biology, Issue 25, zebrafish, morpholino, development, microinjection, heart of glass, heg
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
Identification of Key Factors Regulating Self-renewal and Differentiation in EML Hematopoietic Precursor Cells by RNA-sequencing Analysis
Institutions: The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are used clinically for transplantation treatment to rebuild a patient's hematopoietic system in many diseases such as leukemia and lymphoma. Elucidating the mechanisms controlling HSCs self-renewal and differentiation is important for application of HSCs for research and clinical uses. However, it is not possible to obtain large quantity of HSCs due to their inability to proliferate in vitro
. To overcome this hurdle, we used a mouse bone marrow derived cell line, the EML (Erythroid, Myeloid, and Lymphocytic) cell line, as a model system for this study.
RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq) has been increasingly used to replace microarray for gene expression studies. We report here a detailed method of using RNA-Seq technology to investigate the potential key factors in regulation of EML cell self-renewal and differentiation. The protocol provided in this paper is divided into three parts. The first part explains how to culture EML cells and separate Lin-CD34+ and Lin-CD34- cells. The second part of the protocol offers detailed procedures for total RNA preparation and the subsequent library construction for high-throughput sequencing. The last part describes the method for RNA-Seq data analysis and explains how to use the data to identify differentially expressed transcription factors between Lin-CD34+ and Lin-CD34- cells. The most significantly differentially expressed transcription factors were identified to be the potential key regulators controlling EML cell self-renewal and differentiation. In the discussion section of this paper, we highlight the key steps for successful performance of this experiment.
In summary, this paper offers a method of using RNA-Seq technology to identify potential regulators of self-renewal and differentiation in EML cells. The key factors identified are subjected to downstream functional analysis in vitro
and in vivo
Genetics, Issue 93, EML Cells, Self-renewal, Differentiation, Hematopoietic precursor cell, RNA-Sequencing, Data analysis
Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae
has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
Detecting Somatic Genetic Alterations in Tumor Specimens by Exon Capture and Massively Parallel Sequencing
Institutions: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Efforts to detect and investigate key oncogenic mutations have proven valuable to facilitate the appropriate treatment for cancer patients. The establishment of high-throughput, massively parallel "next-generation" sequencing has aided the discovery of many such mutations. To enhance the clinical and translational utility of this technology, platforms must be high-throughput, cost-effective, and compatible with formalin-fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissue samples that may yield small amounts of degraded or damaged DNA. Here, we describe the preparation of barcoded and multiplexed DNA libraries followed by hybridization-based capture of targeted exons for the detection of cancer-associated mutations in fresh frozen and FFPE tumors by massively parallel sequencing. This method enables the identification of sequence mutations, copy number alterations, and select structural rearrangements involving all targeted genes. Targeted exon sequencing offers the benefits of high throughput, low cost, and deep sequence coverage, thus conferring high sensitivity for detecting low frequency mutations.
Molecular Biology, Issue 80, Molecular Diagnostic Techniques, High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing, Genetics, Neoplasms, Diagnosis, Massively parallel sequencing, targeted exon sequencing, hybridization capture, cancer, FFPE, DNA mutations
Recapitulation of an Ion Channel IV Curve Using Frequency Components
Institutions: University of Utah.
INTRODUCTION: Presently, there are no established methods to measure multiple ion channel types simultaneously and decompose the measured current into portions attributable to each channel type. This study demonstrates how impedance spectroscopy may be used to identify specific frequencies that highly correlate with the steady state current amplitude measured during voltage clamp experiments. The method involves inserting a noise function containing specific frequencies into the voltage step protocol. In the work presented, a model cell is used to demonstrate that no high correlations are introduced by the voltage clamp circuitry, and also that the noise function itself does not introduce any high correlations when no ion channels are present. This validation is necessary before the technique can be applied to preparations containing ion channels. The purpose of the protocol presented is to demonstrate how to characterize the frequency response of a single ion channel type to a noise function. Once specific frequencies have been identified in an individual channel type, they can be used to reproduce the steady state current voltage (IV) curve. Frequencies that highly correlate with one channel type and minimally correlate with other channel types may then be used to estimate the current contribution of multiple channel types measured simultaneously.
METHODS: Voltage clamp measurements were performed on a model cell using a standard voltage step protocol (-150 to +50 mV, 5mV steps). Noise functions containing equal magnitudes of 1-15 kHz frequencies (zero to peak amplitudes: 50 or 100mV) were inserted into each voltage step. The real component of the Fast Fourier transform (FFT) of the output signal was calculated with and without noise for each step potential. The magnitude of each frequency as a function of voltage step was correlated with the current amplitude at the corresponding voltages.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: In the absence of noise (control), magnitudes of all frequencies except the DC component correlated poorly (|R|<0.5) with the IV curve, whereas the DC component had a correlation coefficient greater than 0.999 in all measurements. The quality of correlation between individual frequencies and the IV curve did not change when a noise function was added to the voltage step protocol. Likewise, increasing the amplitude of the noise function also did not increase the correlation. Control measurements demonstrate that the voltage clamp circuitry by itself does not cause any frequencies above 0 Hz to highly correlate with the steady-state IV curve. Likewise, measurements in the presence of the noise function demonstrate that the noise function does not cause any frequencies above 0 Hz to correlate with the steady-state IV curve when no ion channels are present. Based on this verification, the method can now be applied to preparations containing a single ion channel type with the intent of identifying frequencies whose amplitudes correlate specifically with that channel type.
Biophysics, Issue 48, Ion channel, Kir2.1, impedance spectroscopy, frequency response, voltage clamp, electrophysiology
A Rapid High-throughput Method for Mapping Ribonucleoproteins (RNPs) on Human pre-mRNA
Institutions: Brown University, Brown University.
Sequencing RNAs that co-immunoprecipitate (co-IP) with RNA binding proteins has increased our understanding of splicing by demonstrating that binding location often influences function of a splicing factor. However, as with any sampling strategy the chance of identifying an RNA bound to a splicing factor is proportional to its cellular abundance. We have developed a novel in vitro approach for surveying binding specificity on otherwise transient pre-mRNA. This approach utilizes a specifically designed oligonucleotide pool that tiles across introns, exons, splice junctions, or other pre-mRNA. The pool is subjected to some kind of molecular selection. Here, we demonstrate the method by separating the oligonucleotide into a bound and unbound fraction and utilize a two color array strategy to record the enrichment of each oligonucleotide in the bound fraction. The array data generates high-resolution maps with the ability to identify sequence-specific and structural determinates of ribonucleoprotein (RNP) binding on pre-mRNA. A unique advantage to this method is its ability to avoid the sampling bias towards mRNA associated with current IP and SELEX techniques, as the pool is specifically designed and synthesized from pre-mRNA sequence. The flexibility of the oligonucleotide pool is another advantage since the experimenter chooses which regions to study and tile across, tailoring the pool to their individual needs. Using this technique, one can assay the effects of polymorphisms or mutations on binding on a large scale or clone the library into a functional splicing reporter and identify oligonucleotides that are enriched in the included fraction. This novel in vitro high-resolution mapping scheme provides a unique way to study RNP interactions with transient pre-mRNA species, whose low abundance makes them difficult to study with current in vivo techniques.
Cellular Biology, Issue 34, pre-mRNA, splicing factors, tiling array, ribonucleoprotein (RNP), binding maps
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