Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
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
Laser-Induced Chronic Ocular Hypertension Model on SD Rats
Institutions: The University of Hong Kong - HKU.
Glaucoma is one of the major causes of blindness in the world. Elevated intraocular pressure is a major risk factor. Laser photocoagulation induced ocular hypertension is one of the well established animal models. This video demonstrates how to induce ocular hypertension by Argon laser photocoagulation in rat.
Neuroscience, Issue 10, glaucoma, ocular hypertension, rat
Human T Lymphocyte Isolation, Culture and Analysis of Migration In Vitro
Institutions: University of Rochester.
The migration of T lymphocytes involves the adhesive interaction of cell surface integrins with ligands expressed on other cells or with extracellular matrix proteins. The precise spatiotemporal activation of integrins from a low affinity state to a high affinity state at the cell leading edge is important for T lymphocyte migration 1
. Likewise, retraction of the cell trailing edge, or uropod, is a necessary step in maintaining persistent integrin-dependent T lymphocyte motility 2
. Many therapeutic approaches to autoimmune or inflammatory diseases target integrins as a means to inhibit the excessive recruitment and migration of leukocytes 3
. To study the molecular events that regulate human T lymphocyte migration, we have utilized an in vitro
system to analyze cell migration on a two-dimensional substrate that mimics the environment that a T lymphocyte encounters during recruitment from the vasculature. T lymphocytes are first isolated from human donors and are then stimulated and cultured for seven to ten days. During the assay, T lymphocytes are allowed to adhere and migrate on a substrate coated with intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), a ligand for integrin LFA-1, and stromal cell-derived factor-1 (SDF-1). Our data show that T lymphocytes exhibit a migratory velocity of ~15 μm/min. T lymphocyte migration can be inhibited by integrin blockade 1
or by inhibitors of the cellular actomyosin machinery that regulates cell migration 2
Immunology, Issue 40, T lymphocyte, Migration, Integrin, LFA-1, ICAM-1, Chemokine
Identification of Disease-related Spatial Covariance Patterns using Neuroimaging Data
Institutions: The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.
The scaled subprofile model (SSM)1-4
is a multivariate PCA-based algorithm that identifies major sources of variation in patient and control group brain image data while rejecting lesser components (Figure 1
). Applied directly to voxel-by-voxel covariance data of steady-state multimodality images, an entire group image set can be reduced to a few significant linearly independent covariance patterns and corresponding subject scores. Each pattern, termed a group invariant subprofile (GIS), is an orthogonal principal component that represents a spatially distributed network of functionally interrelated brain regions. Large global mean scalar effects that can obscure smaller network-specific contributions are removed by the inherent logarithmic conversion and mean centering of the data2,5,6
. Subjects express each of these patterns to a variable degree represented by a simple scalar score that can correlate with independent clinical or psychometric descriptors7,8
. Using logistic regression analysis of subject scores (i.e.
pattern expression values), linear coefficients can be derived to combine multiple principal components into single disease-related spatial covariance patterns, i.e.
composite networks with improved discrimination of patients from healthy control subjects5,6
. Cross-validation within the derivation set can be performed using bootstrap resampling techniques9
. Forward validation is easily confirmed by direct score evaluation of the derived patterns in prospective datasets10
. Once validated, disease-related patterns can be used to score individual patients with respect to a fixed reference sample, often the set of healthy subjects that was used (with the disease group) in the original pattern derivation11
. These standardized values can in turn be used to assist in differential diagnosis12,13
and to assess disease progression and treatment effects at the network level7,14-16
. We present an example of the application of this methodology to FDG PET data of Parkinson's Disease patients and normal controls using our in-house software to derive a characteristic covariance pattern biomarker of disease.
Medicine, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Basal Ganglia Diseases, Parkinsonian Disorders, Parkinson Disease, Movement Disorders, Neurodegenerative Diseases, PCA, SSM, PET, imaging biomarkers, functional brain imaging, multivariate spatial covariance analysis, global normalization, differential diagnosis, PD, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
A Method for Investigating Age-related Differences in the Functional Connectivity of Cognitive Control Networks Associated with Dimensional Change Card Sort Performance
Institutions: University of Western Ontario.
The ability to adjust behavior to sudden changes in the environment develops gradually in childhood and adolescence. For example, in the Dimensional Change Card Sort task, participants switch from sorting cards one way, such as shape, to sorting them a different way, such as color. Adjusting behavior in this way exacts a small performance cost, or switch cost, such that responses are typically slower and more error-prone on switch trials in which the sorting rule changes as compared to repeat trials in which the sorting rule remains the same. The ability to flexibly adjust behavior is often said to develop gradually, in part because behavioral costs such as switch costs typically decrease with increasing age. Why aspects of higher-order cognition, such as behavioral flexibility, develop so gradually remains an open question. One hypothesis is that these changes occur in association with functional changes in broad-scale cognitive control networks. On this view, complex mental operations, such as switching, involve rapid interactions between several distributed brain regions, including those that update and maintain task rules, re-orient attention, and select behaviors. With development, functional connections between these regions strengthen, leading to faster and more efficient switching operations. The current video describes a method of testing this hypothesis through the collection and multivariate analysis of fMRI data from participants of different ages.
Behavior, Issue 87, Neurosciences, fMRI, Cognitive Control, Development, Functional Connectivity
Recording Human Electrocorticographic (ECoG) Signals for Neuroscientific Research and Real-time Functional Cortical Mapping
Institutions: New York State Department of Health, Albany Medical College, Albany Medical College, Washington University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, State University of New York at Albany, University of Texas at El Paso .
Neuroimaging studies of human cognitive, sensory, and motor processes are usually based on noninvasive techniques such as electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography or functional magnetic-resonance imaging. These techniques have either inherently low temporal or low spatial resolution, and suffer from low signal-to-noise ratio and/or poor high-frequency sensitivity. Thus, they are suboptimal for exploring the short-lived spatio-temporal dynamics of many of the underlying brain processes. In contrast, the invasive technique of electrocorticography (ECoG) provides brain signals that have an exceptionally high signal-to-noise ratio, less susceptibility to artifacts than EEG, and a high spatial and temporal resolution (i.e., <1 cm/<1 millisecond, respectively). ECoG involves measurement of electrical brain signals using electrodes that are implanted subdurally on the surface of the brain. Recent studies have shown that ECoG amplitudes in certain frequency bands carry substantial information about task-related activity, such as motor execution and planning1
, auditory processing2
and visual-spatial attention3
. Most of this information is captured in the high gamma range (around 70-110 Hz). Thus, gamma activity has been proposed as a robust and general indicator of local cortical function1-5
. ECoG can also reveal functional connectivity and resolve finer task-related spatial-temporal dynamics, thereby advancing our understanding of large-scale cortical processes. It has especially proven useful for advancing brain-computer interfacing (BCI) technology for decoding a user's intentions to enhance or improve communication6
. Nevertheless, human ECoG data are often hard to obtain because of the risks and limitations of the invasive procedures involved, and the need to record within the constraints of clinical settings. Still, clinical monitoring to localize epileptic foci offers a unique and valuable opportunity to collect human ECoG data. We describe our methods for collecting recording ECoG, and demonstrate how to use these signals for important real-time applications such as clinical mapping and brain-computer interfacing. Our example uses the BCI2000 software platform8,9
and the SIGFRIED10
method, an application for real-time mapping of brain functions. This procedure yields information that clinicians can subsequently use to guide the complex and laborious process of functional mapping by electrical stimulation.
Prerequisites and Planning:
Patients with drug-resistant partial epilepsy may be candidates for resective surgery of an epileptic focus to minimize the frequency of seizures. Prior to resection, the patients undergo monitoring using subdural electrodes for two purposes: first, to localize the epileptic focus, and second, to identify nearby critical brain areas (i.e., eloquent cortex) where resection could result in long-term functional deficits. To implant electrodes, a craniotomy is performed to open the skull. Then, electrode grids and/or strips are placed on the cortex, usually beneath the dura. A typical grid has a set of 8 x 8 platinum-iridium electrodes of 4 mm diameter (2.3 mm exposed surface) embedded in silicon with an inter-electrode distance of 1cm. A strip typically contains 4 or 6 such electrodes in a single line. The locations for these grids/strips are planned by a team of neurologists and neurosurgeons, and are based on previous EEG monitoring, on a structural MRI of the patient's brain, and on relevant factors of the patient's history. Continuous recording over a period of 5-12 days serves to localize epileptic foci, and electrical stimulation via the implanted electrodes allows clinicians to map eloquent cortex. At the end of the monitoring period, explantation of the electrodes and therapeutic resection are performed together in one procedure.
In addition to its primary clinical purpose, invasive monitoring also provides a unique opportunity to acquire human ECoG data for neuroscientific research. The decision to include a prospective patient in the research is based on the planned location of their electrodes, on the patient's performance scores on neuropsychological assessments, and on their informed consent, which is predicated on their understanding that participation in research is optional and is not related to their treatment. As with all research involving human subjects, the research protocol must be approved by the hospital's institutional review board. The decision to perform individual experimental tasks is made day-by-day, and is contingent on the patient's endurance and willingness to participate. Some or all of the experiments may be prevented by problems with the clinical state of the patient, such as post-operative facial swelling, temporary aphasia, frequent seizures, post-ictal fatigue and confusion, and more general pain or discomfort.
At the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at Albany Medical Center in Albany, New York, clinical monitoring is implemented around the clock using a 192-channel Nihon-Kohden Neurofax monitoring system. Research recordings are made in collaboration with the Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health in Albany. Signals from the ECoG electrodes are fed simultaneously to the research and the clinical systems via splitter connectors. To ensure that the clinical and research systems do not interfere with each other, the two systems typically use separate grounds. In fact, an epidural strip of electrodes is sometimes implanted to provide a ground for the clinical system. Whether research or clinical recording system, the grounding electrode is chosen to be distant from the predicted epileptic focus and from cortical areas of interest for the research. Our research system consists of eight synchronized 16-channel g.USBamp amplifier/digitizer units (g.tec, Graz, Austria). These were chosen because they are safety-rated and FDA-approved for invasive recordings, they have a very low noise-floor in the high-frequency range in which the signals of interest are found, and they come with an SDK that allows them to be integrated with custom-written research software. In order to capture the high-gamma signal accurately, we acquire signals at 1200Hz sampling rate-considerably higher than that of the typical EEG experiment or that of many clinical monitoring systems. A built-in low-pass filter automatically prevents aliasing of signals higher than the digitizer can capture. The patient's eye gaze is tracked using a monitor with a built-in Tobii T-60 eye-tracking system (Tobii Tech., Stockholm, Sweden). Additional accessories such as joystick, bluetooth Wiimote (Nintendo Co.), data-glove (5th
Dimension Technologies), keyboard, microphone, headphones, or video camera are connected depending on the requirements of the particular experiment.
Data collection, stimulus presentation, synchronization with the different input/output accessories, and real-time analysis and visualization are accomplished using our BCI2000 software8,9
. BCI2000 is a freely available general-purpose software system for real-time biosignal data acquisition, processing and feedback. It includes an array of pre-built modules that can be flexibly configured for many different purposes, and that can be extended by researchers' own code in C++, MATLAB or Python. BCI2000 consists of four modules that communicate with each other via a network-capable protocol: a Source module that handles the acquisition of brain signals from one of 19 different hardware systems from different manufacturers; a Signal Processing module that extracts relevant ECoG features and translates them into output signals; an Application module that delivers stimuli and feedback to the subject; and the Operator module that provides a graphical interface to the investigator.
A number of different experiments may be conducted with any given patient. The priority of experiments will be determined by the location of the particular patient's electrodes. However, we usually begin our experimentation using the SIGFRIED (SIGnal modeling For Realtime Identification and Event Detection) mapping method, which detects and displays significant task-related activity in real time. The resulting functional map allows us to further tailor subsequent experimental protocols and may also prove as a useful starting point for traditional mapping by electrocortical stimulation (ECS).
Although ECS mapping remains the gold standard for predicting the clinical outcome of resection, the process of ECS mapping is time consuming and also has other problems, such as after-discharges or seizures. Thus, a passive functional mapping technique may prove valuable in providing an initial estimate of the locus of eloquent cortex, which may then be confirmed and refined by ECS. The results from our passive SIGFRIED mapping technique have been shown to exhibit substantial concurrence with the results derived using ECS mapping10
The protocol described in this paper establishes a general methodology for gathering human ECoG data, before proceeding to illustrate how experiments can be initiated using the BCI2000 software platform. Finally, as a specific example, we describe how to perform passive functional mapping using the BCI2000-based SIGFRIED system.
Neuroscience, Issue 64, electrocorticography, brain-computer interfacing, functional brain mapping, SIGFRIED, BCI2000, epilepsy monitoring, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI
Methods to Assess Subcellular Compartments of Muscle in C. elegans
Institutions: University of Nottingham.
Muscle is a dynamic tissue that responds to changes in nutrition, exercise, and disease state. The loss of muscle mass and function with disease and age are significant public health burdens. We currently understand little about the genetic regulation of muscle health with disease or age. The nematode C. elegans
is an established model for understanding the genomic regulation of biological processes of interest. This worm’s body wall muscles display a large degree of homology with the muscles of higher metazoan species. Since C. elegans
is a transparent organism, the localization of GFP to mitochondria and sarcomeres allows visualization of these structures in vivo
. Similarly, feeding animals cationic dyes, which accumulate based on the existence of a mitochondrial membrane potential, allows the assessment of mitochondrial function in vivo
. These methods, as well as assessment of muscle protein homeostasis, are combined with assessment of whole animal muscle function, in the form of movement assays, to allow correlation of sub-cellular defects with functional measures of muscle performance. Thus, C. elegans
provides a powerful platform with which to assess the impact of mutations, gene knockdown, and/or chemical compounds upon muscle structure and function. Lastly, as GFP, cationic dyes, and movement assays are assessed non-invasively, prospective studies of muscle structure and function can be conducted across the whole life course and this at present cannot be easily investigated in vivo
in any other organism.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, Physiology, C. elegans, muscle, mitochondria, sarcomeres, ageing
A Faster, High Resolution, mtPA-GFP-based Mitochondrial Fusion Assay Acquiring Kinetic Data of Multiple Cells in Parallel Using Confocal Microscopy
Institutions: Tufts School of Medicine, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Boston University Medical Center.
Mitochondrial fusion plays an essential role in mitochondrial calcium homeostasis, bioenergetics, autophagy and quality control. Fusion is quantified in living cells by photo-conversion of matrix targeted photoactivatable GFP (mtPAGFP) in a subset of mitochondria. The rate at which the photoconverted molecules equilibrate across the entire mitochondrial population is used as a measure of fusion activity. Thus far measurements were performed using a single cell time lapse approach, quantifying the equilibration in one cell over an hour. Here, we scale up and automate a previously published live cell method based on using mtPAGFP and a low concentration of TMRE (15 nm). This method involves photoactivating a small portion of the mitochondrial network, collecting highly resolved stacks of confocal sections every 15 min for 1 hour, and quantifying the change in signal intensity. Depending on several factors such as ease of finding PAGFP expressing cells, and the signal of the photoactivated regions, it is possible to collect around 10 cells within the 15 min intervals. This provides a significant improvement in the time efficiency of this assay while maintaining the highly resolved subcellular quantification as well as the kinetic parameters necessary to capture the detail of mitochondrial behavior in its native cytoarchitectural environment.
Mitochondrial dynamics play a role in many cellular processes including respiration, calcium regulation, and apoptosis1,2,3,13
. The structure of the mitochondrial network affects the function of mitochondria, and the way they interact with the rest of the cell. Undergoing constant division and fusion, mitochondrial networks attain various shapes ranging from highly fused networks, to being more fragmented. Interestingly, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Charcot Marie Tooth 2A, and dominant optic atrophy have been correlated with altered mitochondrial morphology, namely fragmented networks4,10,13
. Often times, upon fragmentation, mitochondria become depolarized, and upon accumulation this leads to impaired cell function18
. Mitochondrial fission has been shown to signal a cell to progress toward apoptosis. It can also provide a mechanism by which to separate depolarized and inactive mitochondria to keep the bulk of the network robust14
. Fusion of mitochondria, on the other hand, leads to sharing of matrix proteins, solutes, mtDNA and the electrochemical gradient, and also seems to prevent progression to apoptosis9
. How fission and fusion of mitochondria affects cell homeostasis and ultimately the functioning of the organism needs further understanding, and therefore the continuous development and optimization of how to gather information on these phenomena is necessary.
Existing mitochondrial fusion assays have revealed various insights into mitochondrial physiology, each having its own advantages. The hybrid PEG fusion assay7
, mixes two populations of differently labeled cells (mtRFP and mtYFP), and analyzes the amount of mixing and colocalization of fluorophores in fused, multinucleated, cells. Although this method has yielded valuable information, not all cell types can fuse, and the conditions under which fusion is stimulated involves the use of toxic drugs that likely affect the normal fusion process. More recently, a cell free technique has been devised, using isolated mitochondria to observe fusion events based on a luciferase assay1,5
. Two human cell lines are targeted with either the amino or a carboxy terminal part of Renilla luciferase along with a leucine zipper to ensure dimerization upon mixing. Mitochondria are isolated from each cell line, and fused. The fusion reaction can occur without the cytosol under physiological conditions in the presence of energy, appropriate temperature and inner mitochondrial membrane potential. Interestingly, the cytosol was found to modulate the extent of fusion, demonstrating that cell signaling regulates the fusion process 4,5
. This assay will be very useful for high throughput screening to identify components of the fusion machinery and also pharmacological compounds that may affect mitochondrial dynamics. However, more detailed whole cell mitochondrial assays will be needed to complement this in vitro assay to observe these events within a cellular environment.
A technique for monitoring whole-cell mitochondrial dynamics has been in use for some time and is based on a mitochondrially-targeted photoactivatable GFP (mtPAGFP)6,11
. Upon expression of the mtPAGFP, a small portion of the mitochondrial network is photoactivated (10-20%), and the spread of the signal to the rest of the mitochondrial network is recorded every 15 minutes for 1 hour using time lapse confocal imaging. Each fusion event leads to a dilution of signal intensity, enabling quantification of the fusion rate. Although fusion and fission are continuously occurring in cells, this technique only monitors fusion as fission does not lead to a dilution of the PAGFP signal6
. Co-labeling with low levels of TMRE (7-15 nM in INS1 cells) allows quantification of the membrane potential of mitochondria. When mitochondria are hyperpolarized they uptake more TMRE, and when they depolarize they lose the TMRE dye. Mitochondria that depolarize no longer have a sufficient membrane potential and tend not to fuse as efficiently if at all. Therefore, active fusing mitochondria can be tracked with these low levels of TMRE9,15
. Accumulation of depolarized mitochondria that lack a TMRE signal may be a sign of phototoxicity or cell death. Higher concentrations of TMRE render mitochondria very sensitive to laser light, and therefore great care must be taken to avoid overlabeling with TMRE. If the effect of depolarization of mitochondria is the topic of interest, a technique using slightly higher levels of TMRE and more intense laser light can be used to depolarize mitochondria in a controlled fashion (Mitra and Lippincott-Schwartz, 2010). To ensure that toxicity due to TMRE is not an issue, we suggest exposing loaded cells (3-15 nM TMRE) to the imaging parameters that will be used in the assay (perhaps 7 stacks of 6 optical sections in a row), and assessing cell health after 2 hours. If the mitochondria appear too fragmented and cells are dying, other mitochondrial markers, such as dsRED or Mitotracker red could be used instead of TMRE.
The mtPAGFP method has revealed details about mitochondrial network behavior that could not be visualized using other methods. For example, we now know that mitochondrial fusion can be full or transient, where matrix content can mix without changing the overall network morphology. Additionally, we know that the probability of fusion is independent of contact duration and organelle dimension, is influenced by organelle motility, membrane potential and history of previous fusion activity8,15,16,17
In this manuscript, we describe a methodology for scaling up the previously published protocol using mtPAGFP and 15nM TMRE8
in order to examine multiple cells at a time and improve the time efficiency of data collection without sacrificing the subcellular resolution. This has been made possible by the use of an automated microscope stage, and programmable image acquisition software. Zen software from Zeiss allows the user to mark and track several designated cells expressing mtPAGFP. Each of these cells can be photoactivated in a particular region of interest, and stacks of confocal slices can be monitored for mtPAGFP signal as well as TMRE at specified intervals. Other confocal systems could be used to perform this protocol provided there is an automated stage that is programmable, an incubator with CO2
, and a means by which to photoactivate the PAGFP; either a multiphoton laser, or a 405 nm diode laser.
Molecular Biology, Issue 65, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Physics, confocal microscopy, mitochondria, fusion, TMRE, mtPAGFP, INS1, mitochondrial dynamics, mitochondrial morphology, mitochondrial network
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Australian Synchrotron, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices and are considered as promising candidates for higher-energy applications such as electric vehicles.1,2
However, many challenges, such as energy density and battery lifetimes, need to be overcome before this particular battery technology can be widely implemented in such applications.3
This research is challenging, and we outline a method to address these challenges using in situ
NPD to probe the crystal structure of electrodes undergoing electrochemical cycling (charge/discharge) in a battery. NPD data help determine the underlying structural mechanism responsible for a range of electrode properties, and this information can direct the development of better electrodes and batteries.
We briefly review six types of battery designs custom-made for NPD experiments and detail the method to construct the ‘roll-over’ cell that we have successfully used on the high-intensity NPD instrument, WOMBAT, at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The design considerations and materials used for cell construction are discussed in conjunction with aspects of the actual in situ
NPD experiment and initial directions are presented on how to analyze such complex in situ
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance
Development of an Audio-based Virtual Gaming Environment to Assist with Navigation Skills in the Blind
Institutions: Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, University of Chile .
Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES) is virtual environment software designed to improve real world navigation skills in the blind. Using only audio based cues and set within the context of a video game metaphor, users gather relevant spatial information regarding a building's layout. This allows the user to develop an accurate spatial cognitive map of a large-scale three-dimensional space that can be manipulated for the purposes of a real indoor navigation task. After game play, participants are then assessed on their ability to navigate within the target physical building represented in the game. Preliminary results suggest that early blind users were able to acquire relevant information regarding the spatial layout of a previously unfamiliar building as indexed by their performance on a series of navigation tasks. These tasks included path finding through the virtual and physical building, as well as a series of drop off tasks. We find that the immersive and highly interactive nature of the AbES software appears to greatly engage the blind user to actively explore the virtual environment. Applications of this approach may extend to larger populations of visually impaired individuals.
Medicine, Issue 73, Behavior, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurobiology, Ophthalmology, Psychology, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Technology, Industry, virtual environments, action video games, blind, audio, rehabilitation, indoor navigation, spatial cognitive map, Audio-based Environment Simulator, virtual reality, cognitive psychology, clinical techniques
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Setting Limits on Supersymmetry Using Simplified Models
Institutions: University College London, CERN, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.
Experimental limits on supersymmetry and similar theories are difficult to set because of the enormous available parameter space and difficult to generalize because of the complexity of single points. Therefore, more phenomenological, simplified models are becoming popular for setting experimental limits, as they have clearer physical interpretations. The use of these simplified model limits to set a real limit on a concrete theory has not, however, been demonstrated. This paper recasts simplified model limits into limits on a specific and complete supersymmetry model, minimal supergravity. Limits obtained under various physical assumptions are comparable to those produced by directed searches. A prescription is provided for calculating conservative and aggressive limits on additional theories. Using acceptance and efficiency tables along with the expected and observed numbers of events in various signal regions, LHC experimental results can be recast in this manner into almost any theoretical framework, including nonsupersymmetric theories with supersymmetry-like signatures.
Physics, Issue 81, high energy physics, particle physics, Supersymmetry, LHC, ATLAS, CMS, New Physics Limits, Simplified Models
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
Detection of Architectural Distortion in Prior Mammograms via Analysis of Oriented Patterns
Institutions: University of Calgary , University of Calgary .
We demonstrate methods for the detection of architectural distortion in prior mammograms of interval-cancer cases based on analysis of the orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammograms. We hypothesize that architectural distortion modifies the normal orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammographic images before the formation of masses or tumors. In the initial steps of our methods, the oriented structures in a given mammogram are analyzed using Gabor filters and phase portraits to detect node-like sites of radiating or intersecting tissue patterns. Each detected site is then characterized using the node value, fractal dimension, and a measure of angular dispersion specifically designed to represent spiculating patterns associated with architectural distortion.
Our methods were tested with a database of 106 prior mammograms of 56 interval-cancer cases and 52 mammograms of 13 normal cases using the features developed for the characterization of architectural distortion, pattern classification via
quadratic discriminant analysis, and validation with the leave-one-patient out procedure. According to the results of free-response receiver operating characteristic analysis, our methods have demonstrated the capability to detect architectural distortion in prior mammograms, taken 15 months (on the average) before clinical diagnosis of breast cancer, with a sensitivity of 80% at about five false positives per patient.
Medicine, Issue 78, Anatomy, Physiology, Cancer Biology, angular spread, architectural distortion, breast cancer, Computer-Assisted Diagnosis, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD), entropy, fractional Brownian motion, fractal dimension, Gabor filters, Image Processing, Medical Informatics, node map, oriented texture, Pattern Recognition, phase portraits, prior mammograms, spectral analysis
High-throughput Screening for Small-molecule Modulators of Inward Rectifier Potassium Channels
Institutions: Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Specific members of the inward rectifier potassium (Kir) channel family are postulated drug targets for a variety of disorders, including hypertension, atrial fibrillation, and pain1,2
. For the most part, however, progress toward understanding their therapeutic potential or even basic physiological functions has been slowed by the lack of good pharmacological tools. Indeed, the molecular pharmacology of the inward rectifier family has lagged far behind that of the S4 superfamily of voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channels, for which a number of nanomolar-affinity and highly selective peptide toxin modulators have been discovered3
. The bee venom toxin tertiapin and its derivatives are potent inhibitors of Kir1.1 and Kir3 channels4,5
, but peptides are of limited use therapeutically as well as experimentally due to their antigenic properties and poor bioavailability, metabolic stability and tissue penetrance. The development of potent and selective small-molecule probes with improved pharmacological properties will be a key to fully understanding the physiology and therapeutic potential of Kir channels.
The Molecular Libraries Probes Production Center Network (MLPCN) supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Common Fund has created opportunities for academic scientists to initiate probe discovery campaigns for molecular targets and signaling pathways in need of better pharmacology6
. The MLPCN provides researchers access to industry-scale screening centers and medicinal chemistry and informatics support to develop small-molecule probes to elucidate the function of genes and gene networks. The critical step in gaining entry to the MLPCN is the development of a robust target- or pathway-specific assay that is amenable for high-throughput screening (HTS).
Here, we describe how to develop a fluorescence-based thallium (Tl+
) flux assay of Kir channel function for high-throughput compound screening7,8,9,10
.The assay is based on the permeability of the K+
channel pore to the K+
. A commercially available fluorescent Tl+
reporter dye is used to detect transmembrane flux of Tl+
through the pore. There are at least three commercially available dyes that are suitable for Tl+
flux assays: BTC, FluoZin-2, and FluxOR7,8
. This protocol describes assay development using FluoZin-2. Although originally developed and marketed as a zinc indicator, FluoZin-2 exhibits a robust and dose-dependent increase in fluorescence emission upon Tl+
binding. We began working with FluoZin-2 before FluxOR was available7,8
and have continued to do so9,10
. However, the steps in assay development are essentially identical for all three dyes, and users should determine which dye is most appropriate for their specific needs. We also discuss the assay's performance benchmarks that must be reached to be considered for entry to the MLPCN. Since Tl+
readily permeates most K+
channels, the assay should be adaptable to most K+
Biochemistry, Issue 71, Molecular Biology, Chemistry, Cellular Biology, Chemical Biology, Pharmacology, Molecular Pharmacology, Potassium channels, drug discovery, drug screening, high throughput, small molecules, fluorescence, thallium flux, checkerboard analysis, DMSO, cell lines, screen, assay, assay development
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)
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
Computer-Generated Animal Model Stimuli
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Communication between animals is diverse and complex. Animals may communicate using auditory, seismic, chemosensory, electrical, or visual signals. In particular, understanding the constraints on visual signal design for communication has been of great interest. Traditional methods for investigating animal interactions have used basic observational techniques, staged encounters, or physical manipulation of morphology. Less intrusive methods have tried to simulate conspecifics using crude playback tools, such as mirrors, still images, or models. As technology has become more advanced, video playback has emerged as another tool in which to examine visual communication (Rosenthal, 2000). However, to move one step further, the application of computer-animation now allows researchers to specifically isolate critical components necessary to elicit social responses from conspecifics, and manipulate these features to control interactions. Here, I provide detail on how to create an animation using the Jacky dragon as a model, but this process may be adaptable for other species. In building the animation, I elected to use Lightwave 3D to alter object morphology, add texture, install bones, and provide comparable weight shading that prevents exaggerated movement. The animation is then matched to select motor patterns to replicate critical movement features. Finally, the sequence must rendered into an individual clip for presentation. Although there are other adaptable techniques, this particular method had been demonstrated to be effective in eliciting both conspicuous and social responses in staged interactions.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, behavior, lizard, simulation, animation
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
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