Biologische Hochschulschriften (Goethe-Universität; nur lokal zugänglich)
Astrocyte-derived Wnt growth factors regulate blood-brain barrier integrity
Cathrin Jacqueline Czupalla
Function of plant photosystem II subunits in photoprotection
- Plants absorb sunlight via photosynthetic pigments and convert light energy intochemical energy in the process of photosynthesis. These pigments are mainly bound to antenna protein complexes that funnel the excitation energy to the photosynthetic reaction centres. The peripheral antenna of plant photosystem II (PSII) consists of the major light-harvesting complex of PSII (LHC-II) and the minor LHCs CP29, CP26 and CP24. Light intensity can change frequently and plants need to adapt to high-light conditions in order to avoid photodamage. When more photons are absorbed than can be utilised by the photosynthetic machinery, excessive excitation energy is dissipated as heat by short-term adaptation processes collectively known as non-photochemical quenching (NPQ). A decrease in PSII antenna chlorophyll (Chl) fluorescence yield and a reduction in the average Chl fluorescence lifetime are associated with NPQ. The main component of NPQ is the so-called energy-dependent quenching (qE), and it is triggered by the rapid drop in thylakoid lumenal pH resulting from the plant’s photosynthetic activity. This process is thought to take place at the PSII antenna complexes, which therefore not only capture and transfer light energy but are also involved in balancing the energy flow. The decrease in lumenal pH acivates the enzyme violaxanthin de-epoxidase (VDE), which converts the xanthophyll violaxanthin (Vio) into zeaxanthin (Zea) in the xanthophyll cycle. In addition, the PSII subunit PsbS was discovered to be essential for qE by screening qE-deficient Arabidopsis thaliana mutants. This membrane protein is considered a member of the LHC superfamily, which also includes LHC-II and the minor LHCs. Previous studies on PsbS isolated either from native source or refolded in vitro have produced inconsistent results on its pigment binding capacity. Interestingly, a pH-dependent change in the quaternary structure of PsbS under high light conditions has been reported. This observed dimer-tomonomer transition very likely follows the protonation of lumenal glutamates upon the drop in pH and is accompanied by a change in PSII supercomplex localisation. PsbS dimers are preferentially found in association with the PSII core, whereas PsbS monomers co-localise with LHC-II.Despite the identification of !pH, Zea and PsbS as key players in qE, both the nature of the quencher(s) as well as the underlying molecular mechanism leading to excess energy dissipation still remain unknown. Several models have been put forward to explain the reversible switch in the antenna from an energy-transmitting to a quenched state. Proposals include a simple pigment exchange of Vio for Zea, and aggregation or an internal conformational change of LHC-II. Charge transfer (CT)quenching in the minor LHCs or quenching by carotenoid dark state (Car S1)-Chl interactions have also been suggested. However, none of these qE models has so far been capable of accommodating all the physiological observations and available experimental data. Most importantly, the function of PsbS remains an enigma. A recent qE model suggested that monomerisation of PsbS enables the protein to transiently bind a carotenoid and form a quenching unit with a Chl of a PSII LHC. In view of the various proposed qE mechanisms, this thesis aimed at understanding the interplay of the different qE components and the contribution of the PSII subunits LHC-II, the minor LHCs and PsbS to qE. The initial approach was to investigate the properties of the PSII subunits in the most simple in vitro model system, namely in detergent solution. For this purpose, LHC-II was isolated either from native source or refolded from recombinantly produced protein. Investigation of the minor LHCs and PsbS required heterologous expression and refolding. In addition, experiments were performed on aggregated LHC-II. Aggregates of LHC-II have been used as a popular model system for qE because they exhibit highly quenched Chl fluorescence. At the final stage of this doctoral work, a more sophisticated model system to approximate the thylakoid membrane was developed by reconstitution of the PSII subunits LHC-II and PsbS into liposomes. This system not only allowed for investigation of these membrane proteins in their native environment, but also for mimicking the xanthophyll cycle by distribution of Zea within the membrane as well as !pH by outside buffer exchange. The role of Zea in qE was first investigated with detergent solubilised antenna proteins. The requirement of this xanthophyll for qE is well-known, but the specific contribution to the molecular quenching mechansim is unclear. Previous work had shown that replacement of Vio for Zea in LHC-II was not sufficient to induce Chl fluorescence quenching in Zea-LHC-II, as suggested by the so-called molecular gearshift mechanism. However, by means of selective two-photon excitation spectroscopy, an increase in electronic interactions between Car S1 and Chls was observed for LHC-II upon lowering the pH of the detergent buffer. Electronic Car S1-Chl coupling became even stronger when Zea-LHC-II was probed. The extent of Car S1-Chl coupling correlated directly with the extent of Chl fluorescence quenching, in a similar way as observed previously in live plants under high-light conditions. However, very similar results were obtained with LHC-II aggregates. This implied that the increase in electronic interactions and fluorescence quenching was independent of Zea and low pH. Further experiments on aggregates of LHC-II Chl mutants indicated that the targeted pigments were also not essential for the observed effects. It is proposed that the same molecular mechanism causes an increase in electronic Car S1-Chl interactions and Chl fluorescence quenching in Zea-LHC-II at low pH as well as in aggregated LHC-II. Most likely, surface exposed pigments form random quenching centres in both cases. On the other hand, it was possible that Zea could act as a direct quencher of excess excitation energy in the minor LHCs. However, enrichment of refolded CP29, CP26 and CP24 with Zea did not lead to a change in the Chl excited state lifetime. Formation of a carotenoid radical cation, previously implied in CT quenching, was also not observed, although artificial generation of such a radical cation was principally possible as shown for CP29. During the course of this work, a study reporting the formation of Zea radical cations in minor LHCs was published. Therefore, Zea-enriched minor LHCs were again investigated on the experimental apparatus used in the reported study. Indeed, the presence of at least one carotenoid radical cation for each minor complex was detected. It is suggested that either the preparation method of incubating the refolded minor LHCs with Zea in contrast to refolding the complexes with only Zea and lutein causes the observed differences or that the observed spectral radical cation signatures are due to experimental artifacts. While the experiments with LHC-II and the minor LHCs gave useful insights into the putative qE mechanism, the quencher site and the mode of action of Zea could still not be unambiguously identified. Most importantly, these studies could not explain the function of the qE keyplayer PsbS. Therefore, the focus of the work was shifted to PsbS protein production, purification and characterisation. In view of inconsistent reports on the pigment binding capacity of this PSII subunit, refolding trials with and without photosynthetic pigments were conducted. The formation of a specific pigmentprotein complex typical for other LHCs was not observed and neither was the earlier reported “activation” of Zea for qE by binding to this protein. Nevertheless, PsbS refolded without pigments displayed secondary structure content in agreement with previous studies, indicating pigment-independent folding. Reconstitution of pigmentfree, refolded PsbS into liposomes confirmed that the protein is stable in the absence of pigments. Zea distributed in PsbS-containing liposomes also showed no spectral alteration that would indicate its “activation”. With the ability to reconstitute PsbS, it was then possible to proceed to modelling qE in a proteoliposome system. For this purpose, PsbS was co-reconstituted with LHC-II, which has been reported to interact with PsbS. One-photon excitation (OPE) and two-photon excitation (TPE) spectroscopy measurements were performed on LHC-II- and LHC-II/PsbS-containing liposomes. This enabled both quantification of Chl fluorescence quenching as well as determination of the extent of electronic Car S1-Chl interactions. The effect of Zea was investigated by incorporating it in the proteoliposome membrane. It was shown that Zea alone was not able to induce significant Chl fluorescence quenching when only LHC-II was present. However, when LHC-II and PsbS were co-reconstituted, pronounced Chl fluorescence quenching and an increase in electronic Car S1-Chl interactions were observed and both effects were enhanced when Zea was present. Western blot analysis indicated the presence of a LHC-II/PsbS-heterodimer in these proteoliposomes. In addition to the OPE and TPE measurements, the average Chl fluorescence lifetime was determined in detergent-free buffer at neutral pH and directly after buffer exchange to low pH. No significant changes in the average lifetime were observed for LHC-II proteoliposomes when either Zea was present or after exchange for low pH buffer. This indicated that Zea alone cannot act as a direct quencher, which concurs with the OPE measurements. Moreover, the complex was also properly reconstituted as no aggregation or significant Chl fluorescence quenching were observed. The average lifetime was not significantly affected in LHC-II/PsbS-proteoliposomes, independent of Zea or pH. However, a shortlived component in the presence of a long-lived component was not resolvable with the time resolution of the fluorescence lifetime apparatus.
Implications for qE model systems and the in vivo quenching mechanism are discussed based on the experiments in detergent solution, on LHC-II aggregates and with the proteoliposome model system.
Identification and Analysis of Novel Anti-Apoptotic Proteins in Pancreatic Carcinoma
Juvenile Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis: toponomics approach to identifying new drug targets
- Juvenile Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (JNCL) is a rare inherited childhood neurodegenerative disease that is caused by a mutation in the gene CLN3. The function of the protein produced by the gene has remained elusive, and therefore the disease mechanism of JNCL is as of yet unknown. The disease is fatal, and no cure is currently available. We believe that simvastatin shows promise as a possible treatment. Simvastatin is well tolerated in children, and as currently no other viable, less invasive treatment for JNCL exists, at least pilot-scale clinical trials for this new off-label use of simvastatin are warranted.
The protein CLN3 has been indicated to have several different subcellular localizations and functions, but conclusive evidence about its role in cellular metabolism is lacking. It is also unclear why the mutation causes the distinct phenotype of the JNCL disease. In order to bring lucidity to the issue, we set out to identify metabolic pathways related to the phenotype of JNCL by using Multi-Epitope Ligand Cartography (MELC) and the related field of toponomics. Toponomic methods are required to process the massive amount of data generated by the MELC runs in order to extract information from them.
Our disease model of choice was the CLN3Δex7/8 knock-in mouse. To separate cause from effect, we compared embryonal wild type and mutant mouse brains to their adult counterparts. The first analyses revealed progressively abnormal Combinatorial Molecular Patterns (CMPs, an unit of toponomic data) related to cholera toxin/ganglioside 1 (Ctx/GM1), which is a membrane microdomain marker.
Cholesterol is an essential part of microdomains, so we utilized filipin staining to see if there were actual changes in cholesterol concentration and localization between healthy and diseased animals. After the disturbance in cholesterol metabolism was verified, we investigated the metabolic pathway that synthesizes cholesterol, the mevalonate pathway. Simvastatin is a drug that specifically down-regulates the mevalonate pathway. Fish oil affects lipid homeostasis and has some effects similar to those of simvastatin, and both of these drugs have previously been studied for their effects on neurodegenerative diseases. After treatment of mice with these drugs, highperformance liquid chromatography (HPLC) measurements on the brain homogenate showed a decrease in levels of farnesyl pyrophosphate (FPP) and geranyl-geranyl pyrophosphate (GGPP), products of the mevalonate pathway, confirming the effect of these drugs on the brains of the animals. Analyses of motor function of the mice further supported the notion that simvastatin had a positive effect on the condition of the diseased animals.
CMP analyses from the simvastatin treated mice showed a rescue of the Ctx/GM1 CMPs, suggesting at least a partial restoration of membrane microdomain homeostasis. Filipin staining revealed reversion of the apparent cholesterol depletion in the adult mutant mouse hippocampus by simvastatin. Interestingly, an additional effect of the treatment was found: simvastatin also affected glutamate receptor homeostasis, especially as regarding to N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and alphaamino-3-hydroxyl-5-methyl-4-isoxazole-propionate (AMPA) receptors. This finding suggested that excitotoxicity could be a part of the disease process, and pointed towards glutamate receptors as possible therapy targets. This is in line with previous studies that have shown that attenuation of AMPA receptors and L voltage-dependent channels improve the phenotype of a JNCL mouse and cell model, respectively.
Simvastatin mediates many of its effects via downregulation of the mevalonate pathway products, such as isoprenoids and cholesterol. However, simvastatin also has multiple pleiotropic effects that include suppression of excitotoxicity and granting neuroprotection. It is apparent that simvastatin treatment has a positive effect on JNCL mice, but if its effects are mediated via cholesterol (and membrane microdomains), isoprenoids (and isoprenylated proteins) or via a fully cholesterol independent mechanism remains to be solved.
In this study we have shown that with the MELC method and toponomics it is possible to approach rare diseases with confounded disease mechanisms with a hypothesis-free approach, to identify possible drug targets, and to monitor the effects of the drugs on treated individuals. This should open up a new avenue in the research of the many diseases that so far have avoided all attempts at discerning their nature.
An exciting in vivo function of ATP-sensitive potassium channels in substantia nigra dopamine neurons : implications for burst firing and novelty coding
- An exciting in vivo function of ATP-sensitive potassium channels in substantia nigra dopamine neurons Ð Implications for burst firing and novelty coding ÐPhasic burst activity is a key feature of dopamine (DA) midbrain neurons. This particular pattern of excitation of DA neurons occurs via a synaptically triggered transition from low-frequency background spiking to transient high-frequency discharges. Burst-firing mediated phasic DA release is critical for flexible switching of behavioural strategies in response to unexpected rewards, novelty and other salient stimuli. However, the cellular and molecular bases of burst signalling in distinct DA subpopulations of the substantia nigra (SN) or the ventral tegmental area (VTA) are unknown.
DA neuron excitability is controlled by synaptic network inputs, neurotransmitter receptors and ion channels, which generate action potentials and determine frequency and pattern of electrical activity in a complex interplay. ATP-sensitive potassium (K-ATP) channels are widely expressed throughout the brain, where in most cases they are believed to act as metabolically-controlled 'excitation brakes' by matching excitability to cellular energy states. However, their precise physiological in vivo function in DA neurons remains elusive.
To study burst firing and the underlying ionic mechanisms with single cell resolution, in vivo single-unit recordings were combined with juxtacellular neurobiotin labelling as well as immunohistochemical and anatomical identification of individual DA neurons. In vivo recordings were performed in adult isoflurane-anaesthetised wildtype (WT) and global K-ATP channel knockout mice, lacking the pore forming Kir6.2 subunit (Kir6.2-/-). In addition, DA cell-selective functional silencing of K-ATP channel activity in vivo was established using virus-mediated expression of dominant-negative Kir6.2 subunits. Careful control experiments ruled out any significant contributions from nonDA neurons as transduction was effectively limited to SN DA neurons rather than affecting those cells that innervate them. Virus-based K-ATP channel silencing in combination with juxtacellular recording and labelling was achieved to define the electrophysiological phenotype of individually identified, virally-transduced DA neurons in vivo.
Single-unit recordings revealed that K-ATP channels Ð in contrast to their conventional hyperpolarising role Ð in a subpopulation of DA neurons located in the medial SN (m-SN) act as cell-type selective gates for excitatory burst firing in vivo. The percentage of spikes in bursts was threefold reduced in Kir6.2-/- compared to WT mice. Classification of firing patterns based on visual inspection of autocorrelation histograms and on a newly developed spike-train-model confirmed the dramatic shift from phasic burst to tonic single-spike oscillatory firing in Kir6.2-/-. This significant decrease of burstiness was selective for m-SN DA neurons and was not exhibited by DA cells in the lateral SN or VTA. Virus-based K-ATP channel silencing in vivo unequivocally demonstrated that the activity of postsynaptic K-ATP channels was sufficient to disrupt bursting in m-SN DA neuron subtypes. Patch-clamp recordings in brain slices indicated an essential role of K-ATP channels for NMDA-mediated in vitro bursting. In accordance with previous studies in DA midbrain neurons, NMDA receptor stimulation triggered burst-like firing in m-SN DA cells in vitro, but only when K-ATP channels were co-activated in these neurons.
K-ATP channel-gated burst firing in m-SN DA neurons might be functionally relevant in awake, freely moving mice. To explore the behavioural consequences of SN DA neuron subtype-selective K-ATP channel suppression, spontaneous open field (OF) behaviour of mice with bilateral K-ATP silencing across the whole SN (medial + lateral) or in only the lateral SN was tested. Analysis of WT and global Kir6.2-/- mice showed reduced exploratory locomotor activity of Kir6.2-/- in a novel OF environment. Remarkably, K-ATP channel silencing in m-SN DA neurons phenocopied this novelty-exploration deficit, indicating that K-ATP channel-gated burst firing in medial but not lateral SN DA neurons is crucial for WT-like novelty-dependent exploratory behaviour.
In summary, a novel role of K-ATP channels in promoting the excitatory switch from tonic to phasic firing in vivo in a cell-type specific manner was discovered. The present PhD thesis provides several important insights into the pivotal function of K-ATP channels in medial SN DA cells, which project to the dorsomedial striatum, for burst firing and its important consequences for context-dependent exploratory behaviour.
In collaboration with two other research groups transcriptional up-regulation of K-ATP channel and NMDA receptor subunits and high levels of in vivo burst firing were detected in surviving SN DA neurons from Parkinson's disease (PD) patients Ð providing a potential link of K-ATP channel activity to neurodegenerative pathomechanisms of PD. Using high-resolution fMRI imaging another study in humans has recently identified distinct DA midbrain regions that are preferentially activated by either reward or novelty. Taken together, these human data and the results of the present PhD thesis suggest that burst-gating K-ATP channel function in SN DA neurons impacts on phenotypes in disease as well as in health.
Identification of erioflorin as a stabilizer of Pdcd4 by a HTS of natural products and discovery of its mechanism of action
- The tumor suppressor programmed cell death 4 (Pdcd4) exerts its function by inhibiting protein translation initiation. Specifically, it displaces the scaffold protein eukaryotic initiation factor 4G (eIF4G) from its binding to the eukaryotic initiation factor 4A (eIF4A). Thereby, Pdcd4 inhibits the helicase activity of eIF4A, which is necessary for the unwinding of highly structured 5’ untranslated regions (UTRs) of messenger RNAs (mRNAs) often found in oncogenes like c-myc to make them accessible for the translation machinery and subsequent protein production. Overexpression of Pdcd4 inhibits tumorigenesis in vitro and in vivo and inversely, Pdcd4 knockout mice show enhanced tumor formation. In line, Pdcd4 is lost in various tumor types and proposed as prognostic factor in colon carcinomas. Unlike most other tumor suppressors that are rendered nonfunctional by mutations (e.g., p53), Pdcd4 loss is not attributable to mutational inactivation. It is regulated via translational repression by microRNAs and increased degradation of the protein under tumor promoting, inflammatory conditions and mitogens. Specifically, proteasomal degradation of Pdcd4 is controlled by p70 S6 Kinase (p70S6K)-mediated phosphorylation in its degron sequence (serines 67, 71 and 76). Stimulation of the PI3K-AKT-mTOR pathway by growth factors, hormones and cytokines initiates p70S6K activity. Phosphorylated Pdcd4 is subsequently recognized by the E3 ubiquitin ligase beta-transducin repeats-containing protein (β-TrCP) and marked with a polyubiquitin tail to be detected by the 26S proteasome for degradation. β-TrCP represents the substrate specific recognition subunit of the ubiquitin ligase complex responsible for protein-protein interaction with Pdcd4 as substrate for ubiquitin transfer and subsequent proteasomal disassembly.
The first part of the present work aimed at identifying novel stabilizers of the tumor suppressor Pdcd4 in a high throughput screen (HTS). As assay design, a fragment of Pdcd4 from amino acid 39 to 91, containing the phosphorylation sensitive degron sequence, was fused to a luciferase reporter gene construct. Stable expression of this Pdcd4(39-91)luciferase (Pdcd4(39-91)luc) fusion protein in HEK 293 cells served as read-out for the Pdcd4 protein amount to be detected in a high throughput compatible cell-based assay. Loss of Pdcd4(39-91)luc was induced by treatment with 12-O-
tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA), a phorbolester, which activates the PI3K signaling cascade leading to degradation of Pdcd4. The cut-off for hit definition was set at >50% activity in rescuing the Pdcd4(39-91)luc signal from TPA-induced degradation. Activity was calculated relative to the difference of DMSO- and TPA-treated cells (ΔDMSO-TPA = RLUDMSO-RLUTPA). Initial screening of a protein kinase inhibitor library (PKI) revealed hit substances expected to show Pdcd4 stabilizing activity by inhibition of kinases involved in Pdcd4 downregulation, e.g., the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin, the PI3K inhibitors wortmannin and LY294002 and the PKC inhibitors GF 109203X and Ro 31-8220.
The Molecular Targets Laboratory (MTL) of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Frederick, USA, hosts one of the largest collections of crude natural product extracts as well as a big substance libraries from pure synthetic sources. Screening of over 15 000 pure compounds and over 135 000 natural product extracts identified 46 pure and 42 extract hits as Pdcd4 stabilizers. For nine synthetic and six natural product derived compounds (after bioassay-guided fractionation), dose-dependent activities for recovering the TPA-induced Pdcd4(39-91)luc loss defined IC50s in the low micromolar range. Most importantly, these compounds were confirmed to stabilize endogenous Pdcd4 protein levels from forced degradation as well. This result proved the assay design to be highly representative for endogenous cellular mechanisms regulating Pdcd4 protein stability. The next step was to stratify the hit substances according to their likely mechanism of action to be located either up- or downstream of the p70S6K-mediated phosphorylation of Pdcd4. Therefore, phosphorylation of S6, as proto-typical p70S6K target, was analyzed and uncovered two natural derived compounds to influence p70S6K activity. Four substances did not affect p70S6K phosphorylation activity and were therefore considered to stabilize Pdcd4 by acting downstream, i.e. on the β-TrCP-mediated proteasomal degradation.
In the second part of this work, one of these compounds, namely the sesquiterpene lactone erioflorin, isolated by bioassay-guided fraction from the active extract of Eriophyllum lanatum, Asteraceae, was further characterized in detail with respect to its molecular mechanism of action. Erioflorin dose-dependently protected both Pdcd4(39-91)luc and endogenous Pdcd4 protein from TPA-induced degradation with IC50s of 1.28 and 2.64 μM, respectively. Pdcd4 stabilizing activity was maximal at 5 μM erioflorin. Up to this concentration, erioflorin was verified not to inhibit p70S6K activity. In addition, it was observed that erioflorin rescued Pdcd4(39-91)luc from both, wild type and constitutively active p70S6K-mediated downregulation. Only wild type p70S6K was inhibitable by the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin which served as an upstream acting control. To study the next section of Pdcd4 regulation, i.e. recognition by the E3 ubiquitin ligase β-TrCP, Pdcd4(39-91)luc and endogenous Pdcd4 were immunoprecipitated from whole cell extracts with the corresponding antibodies. In this key experiment, treatment with TPA increased overexpressed β-TrCP binding to both and this coimmunoprecipitation could be strongly reduced by erioflorin treatment. This result strongly pointed to an inhibitory mechanism of the β-TrCP specific binding to Pdcd4 by erioflorin. In addition, erioflorin disrupted the binding of in vitro transcribed/translated β-TrCP to Pdcd4 in an in vitro interaction assay to exclude nonspecific intracellular signals. Furthermore, polyubiquitination of Pdcd4 was decreased by erioflorin treatment as well. To clarify questions regarding specificity of erioflorin for the E3 ubiquitin ligase β-TrCP, stability of another important β-TrCP target was explored, i.e. the tumor suppressor inhibitor of kappa B alpha (IκBα). Indeed, the tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα)-mediated loss of IκBα could be prevented by erioflorin cotreatment. On the other hand, the E3 ubiquitin ligase von Hippel Lindau protein (pVHL) was left unaffected as its target hypoxia inducible factor 1 alpha (HIF-1α) could not be stabilized from oxygen-dependent degradation by erioflorin treatment. These results argued strongly for erioflorin being a specific inhibitor of β-TrCP-mediated protein degradation. Functional consequences of erioflorin treatment were investigated by observing its influence on the transcriptional activities of the transformation marker activator protein 1 (AP-1, an indirect downstream target of Pdcd4) and nuclear factor κB (NF-κB which is directly inhibited by IκBα). Indeed, erioflorin showed significant inhibition of AP-1 and NF-κB reporter constructs at 5 μM, a concentration for which an impact on cell viability was excluded. Finally to characterize the significance of erioflorin in a cell-based tumorigenesis assay, the highly invasive colon carcinoma cell line RKO was tested in a two dimensional migration assay. Erioflorin was discovered to significantly lower cell migration in a wound closure assay.
In conclusion, development of a high throughput compatible cell-based reporter assay successfully identified novel substances from pure synthetic and natural product derived background as potent stabilizers of the tumor suppressor Pdcd4. In addition, this work aimed at elucidating the detailed mechanism of action of the sesquiterpene lactone erioflorin from Eriophyllum lanatum, Asteraceae. Erioflorin was discovered to inhibit the E3 ubiquitin ligase β-TrCP, thereby preventing protein degradation of tumor suppressors like Pdcd4 and IκBα. This may offer the possibility to more specifically target protein degradation and generate less adverse side effects by blocking a particular E3 ubiquitin ligase compared to general proteasome inhibition.
Epigenetic regulation of innate immune responses
- We found that the HMTase G9a, that catalyzes H3K9me2 in euchromatin, plays a key modulatory role in type I IFN expression. This finding raises the possibility of targeted intervention with type I IFN expression by using small synthetic inhibitors of G9a. Given the overall minimal negative effect of G9a-deficiency on differentiated cells, the short-term suppression of G9a could be used to potentiate type I IFN expression during chronic viral diseases such as hepatitis C. Accordingly, pharmacological enhancement of methylation, for example by inhibition of the H3K9me2 specific demethylases, could be potentially used to attenuate type I IFN expression and help to control chronic inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. The mechanism responsible for canvassing the epigenetic profile of type I IFN expressing cells are not known. It is plausible, that similar to neurons, where G9a is targeted to specific loci with the help of noncoding RNAs, IFN expressing cells possess similar mechanisms to target H3K9me2 demethylating enzymes to type I IFN loci, thus keeping these loci accessible for IFN-inducing transcription factors. Identification of non-coding RNAs that may contribute to the establishment of the epigenetic state of IFN producing cells will provide a further opportunity for targeted manipulation of IFN expression.
In my thesis, I describe the collaborative experiments that show the ability of synthetic compounds that interfere with the histone readers to suppress inflammation. Our results present a novel concept for the regulation of inflammatory gene expression. The diversity of histone readers and the combinatorial nature of regulation of gene transcription may provide an opportunity for highly selective interference with disease associated transcriptional programs by interfering with specific readers. In the future we plan to address the therapeutic potential of BET antagonists in autoimmune and chronic inflammatory conditions.In summary, the experiments described in my thesis provide an example of how the understanding of the basic mechanisms of chromatin control of gene expression can facilitate novel therapeutic approaches that target chromatin.
Production ecology of tropical rain forests in southwestern Cambodia : I. Plant biomass
1) Three types of forest, evergreen seasonal forest, heath forest and Melaleuca swamp forest, were distinguished and studied in the vicinity of Cheko in southwestern Cambodia, where moist tropical climate with a pronounced dry season in three winter months prevails.
2) These three forest types respectively occupied deep latosol derived from sandstone, very sandy soil around the swamp forest, and deep deposit of silica sand with underground hardpan in shallow valleys.
3) Total plant biomass was estimated by the allometric method based on some 140 sample trees (DBH24.5 cm) which were felled in four sample plots (two 50 mX50 m plots in the evergreen seasonal forest, and each one 20 m x 50 m plot in the other two types). Biomass of ground vegetation was estimated separately by similar technique and clipping.
4) The biomass of evergreen seasonal forest was estimated as follows. Stem 215 ton/ha, branch 99 ton/ha, root 61 ton/ha, leaf 7.3 ton/ha, leaf area index 7.4 ha/ha, density of trees over 4.5 cm DBH 1,280/ha, relative basal area of Whole stand 3.19 o/oo.
5) The biomass of heath forest was as follows. Stem 111 ton/ha, branch 35 ton/ha·, root 19 ton/ha, leaf 7.7 ton/ha, leaf area index 7.1 ha/ha, tree density 2,570/ha, relative basal area 2.3 o/oo.
6) The biomass of M elaleuca swamp forest was as follows. Stem 7.4 ton/ha, branch 3.9 ton/ha, root 2.6 ton/ha, leaf 0.79 ton/ha, leaf area index 0.37, undergrowth of sedge 2.57 ton/ha, tree density 200/ha, relative basal area of trees 0.35 o/oo.
7) It was found that the biomass of small trees (4.5 cm>DBH>1 cm) and ground vegetation (4.5 cm <= DBH) was so unevenly distributed over the forest floor that a few hundred square meters of sample area would be needed for estimating them at a moderate level of statistical reliability.
8) The estimated biomass of the evergreen seasonal forest was compared with the data hitherto obtained in moist tropical forests of Cote d'Ivoire and Thailand. The forest of Cheko was found to have the biomass equivalent to other rain forests, but to be characterized by a specific DBH-tree height curve, a rather small leaf area index and a high value of leaf area/leaf weight ratio.
Controlling gene expression with engineered catalytic riboswitches
- The importance of RNA in molecular and cell biology has long been underestimated. Besides transmitting genetic information, studies of recent years have revealed crucial tasks of RNA especially in gene regulation. Riboswitches are natural RNA-based genetic switches and known only for ten years. They directly sense small-molecule metabolites and regulate in response the expression of the corresponding metabolic genes. Within recent years, artificial riboswitches have been developed that operate according to user-defined demands. Hence, they represent powerful tools for synthetic biology.
This study focused on the development of engineered catalytic riboswitches for conditional gene expression in eukaryotes. A self-cleaving hammerhead ribozyme was linked to a tetracycline binding aptamer in order to regulate ribozyme cleavage allosterically with tetracycline. By integrating such a hybrid molecule into a gene of interest, mRNA cleavage and thereby gene expression is controllable in a ligand dependent manner. The linking domain between ribozyme and aptamer was randomised. Tetracycline inducible ribozymes were isolated after eleven cycles of in vitro selection (SELEX). 80% of the analysed ribozymes show cleavage that strongly depends on tetracycline. In the presence of 1 μM tetracycline, their cleavage rates are comparable to that of the parental hammerhead ribozyme. In the absence of tetracycline, cleavage rates are inhibited up to 333-fold. The allosteric ribozymes bind tetracycline with similar affinity and specificity as the parental aptamer. Ribozyme cleavage is fully induced within minutes after addition of tetracycline. Interestingly, the isolated linker domains exhibit structural consensus motives rather than consensus sequences.
When transferred to yeast, three switches reduced reporter gene expression by 30 - 60% in the presence of tetracycline; none of them controlled gene expression in mammalian cells. In vitro selected molecules do not necessarily retain their characteristics when applied in a cellular context. Therefore, high throughput screening and selection systems have been developed in mammalian cells. The screening system is based on two fluorescent reporter proteins (GFP and mCherry). 1152 individual constructs of the selected ribozyme pool were tested, but none of them reduced reporter gene expression significantly in the presence of tetracycline. The selection system employs a fusion peptide encoding two selection markers (Hygromycin B phosphotransferase and HSV thymidine kinase) facilitating both negative and positive selection. 6.5 x 104 individual constructs of the selected ribozyme pool are currently under investigation.
Development of lentiviral vectors for the gene therapy of HIV infection
- Drug toxicity and viral resistance limit long-term efficacy of antiviral drug treatment for HIV
infection. Thus, alternative therapies need to be explored. Previously, group of “Prof. von Laer”
tested the infusion of T lymphocytes transduced with a retroviral vector (M87o) that expresses an
HIV entry inhibitory peptide (maC46). Gene-modified autologous T cells were infused into 10
HIV-infected patients with advanced disease and multidrug resistant virus during antiretroviral
combination therapy. T cell infusions were tolerated well with no severe side effects. A
significant increase of CD4 counts was observed post infusion. At the end of the one-year
follow-up, the CD4 counts of all patients were still around or above baseline. Gene-modified
cells could be detected in peripheral blood, lymph nodes and bone marrow throughout the oneyear
follow-up, whereby marking levels correlated with the cell dose. No significant changes of
viral load were observed during the first four months. Four of the seven patients that changed
their antiviral drug regimen thereafter responded with a significant decline in plasma viral load.
In conclusion, the transfer of gene-modified cells was safe, led to sustained levels of gene
marking and may improve immune competence in HIV-infected patients with advanced disease
and multidrug resistant virus. However, the low level of gene marking and the lack of substantial
long-term in vivo accumulation of gene-protected cells observed in this trial clearly demonstrate
the requirement for new vectors with new strategy.
In this thesis self‐inactivating lentiviral vectors harboring internal promoters and RNA elements
were therefore evaluated for their potential use in a clinical gene‐therapy trial. The results from
this work provide the basis for the selection of a suitable candidate vector for extensive
preclinical testing. Apart from being capable of transducing non‐dividing cells, lentiviral vectors
incorporate a number of additional features that are of potential value for gene therapeutic
applications. These include a larger packaging capacity, higher titers than γ‐retroviral vectors
and, most importantly, a reduced risk of deregulating cellular genes due to its natural integration
profile. The use of internal promoters to drive expression of the therapeutic transgene maC46
should further improve the safety profile of these new‐generation vectors, while an additional
artificial splice acceptor (SA) into the 5‟UTR of the transgene over all elevate transgene
expression. The rationale for this is that hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells will be
protected from enhancer‐mediated transactivation effects and also from potential side effects due
to the aberrant expression of maC46 while at the same time the full clinical benefit for the
patients is maintained.
In order to find a suitable candidate for preclinical studies, two candidate therapeutic vectors
harboring different regulatory elements were selected based on results from pilot experiments.
The internal promoters used to drive expression of codon optimized maC46 were the PGK
promoter and MPSV promoter. This work focuses on the transgene expression levels in
lymphoid cells and antiviral activity. The issues of long term expression, propensity to
methylation mediated silencing of the promoters, and genotoxicity were also touched. In a first
step the performance of different vectors was evaluated in the human T cell lines. Based on
promising data from ex vivo human peripheral blood mononuclear cells, the vector carrying the
MPSV promoter along with intron were selected for in vivo transplantation experiments.
In summary, the ex vivo data suggested the long term survival of lentiviral gene modified cells,
along with maintained expression of introduced genes. It was observed that the expression of
these constructs depends strongly on the activation and differentiation status of the targeted T
cells. This regulation was not linked to any specific promotor. In vivo study shows that maC46
can be introduced into murine multiple hematopoietic lineages via lentiviral vector and expressed
at high levels in their mulilineage progeny, without altering the hematopoiesis. There was no
sign of any kind of hematopoietic or lymphoid malignancies. Although gene-modified
lymphocytes persisted in-vivo, the downregulation of transgene expression was consistent with
the ex-vivo observation. In contrast to that the T cells transplanted group showed delayed
engraftment of donor cells and there was no expression of C46 in blood and lymphatic organs. .
In conclusion, when considering HIV gene therapy focusing CD4+ T cells, potential problems of
T cell activation status as related to the desired clinical effect must be addressed. These results
might open the way for a gene therapy targeting mainly or exclusively activated T cells and
could be exploited for immunostimulatory as well as suppressive approaches.